David Cameron has disclosed he lobbied “various people” on behalf of Greensill Capital when it sought to introduce an NHS wage payment scheme, as health secretary Matt Hancock was drawn into the controversy.
Hancock was on Sunday named as a fourth minister lobbied by the former prime minister on behalf of the now collapsed finance company, and Cameron also pleaded on behalf of Greensill with a senior Downing Street adviser.
Cameron, who was a paid adviser of Greensill, lobbied chancellor Rishi Sunak and two other Treasury ministers in an ultimately failed attempt in the spring of last year to secure the finance company access to a Bank of England coronavirus loan scheme.
While Cameron was urging Treasury ministers to amend the BoE scheme to include Greensill, the finance company curried favour with the government by offering to pay NHS staff their wages upfront during the Covid-19 crisis, free of charge.
Cameron had initially raised the idea of Greensill offering NHS wage payment services with Hancock at a “private drink” in October 2019, according to the Sunday Times.
The former prime minister refused to comment on Sunday, but has told colleagues he had no regrets. One said: “He was an enthusiastic champion of Greensill’s pay product, Earnd, and met with various people to discuss its rollout across the NHS.”
Lex Greensill, Australian founder of the eponymous firm, also attended the drink with Hancock, along with Bill Crothers, former head of government procurement who became a Greensill director.
The health department said: “These proposals were put to the department in 2019 and we decided local NHS employers were best placed to decide how different pay flexibilities fit with their overall pay and reward offer for their staff.”
An ally of Hancock, referring to the private drink with Cameron, said: “Matt acted in entirely the correct way — he updated officials on the business that was discussed, as is appropriate.”
In March 2020 Lex Greensill said he would be willing through his Earnd payroll platform to remunerate NHS staff on a daily basis, without charging a fee, to help them through the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Australian financier told Sky News this offer was like a “free cup of tea” to thank health workers.
The offer would generate goodwill with a government that was at the time refusing to bow to Cameron’s lobbying over Greensill’s access to the BoE’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility.
Lex Greensill explained in the Sky News interview that the BoE scheme was “a good deal” for blue-chip companies, which could swap commercial paper for cash, but did not help small businesses funded by financial technology businesses.
“We are keen to work with central banks, as we did in the financial crash, to make sure small business has access to the same deals through our technology,” he said.
Cameron was, therefore, lobbying for Greensill on at least two fronts: to gain access to the BoE loan scheme and to persuade ministers to let his employer provide wage payment services for the NHS.
In spite of his lobbying of Sunak and two other Treasury ministers, Jesse Norman and John Glen, by April 2020 Greensill had been denied access to the BoE scheme.
When Charles Roxburgh, the second most senior official in the Treasury, rejected Greensill’s request for access, Cameron contacted a veteran adviser in Number 10, Sheridan Westlake, to complain.
Cameron said it was “nuts” and demanded a rethink. Number 10 said the former prime minister’s request to Westlake was relayed back to the Treasury.
Labour said Sunak should “make a statement to parliament at the earliest opportunity and answer questions on this growing scandal”. Shadow Treasury chief secretary Bridget Phillipson also called for a “full and thorough investigation”.
Some NHS trusts, including the Royal Free in London, did take up wage payment services provided by Earnd. Other trusts used different providers.
One former Earnd employee said the company was committed to a “no fee” service to the public sector, even though competitors were taking a cut for paying daily wages upfront.
This person said: “The plan was to use public sector contracts as a loss leader. The idea was that the service would be rolled out to the private sector, with a fee attached.”
Earnd’s advisory board, which included Louise Casey, a former government adviser on homelessness, and David Blunkett, former Labour education secretary, insisted it should not make money from public sector workers.
Lex Greensill declined to comment.