David Cameron personally lobbied the Treasury’s most senior civil servant on his mobile phone, securing nine meetings with another of the department’s most senior officials.
Sir Tom Scholar, the Treasury’s permanent secretary, said the former prime minister called and sent “some text messages” to demand help for the now collapsed bank Greensill, which was employing Cameron.
The texts were sent to Scholar’s professional mobile phone number, which he said Cameron had because the Treasury official “used to work for him”.
The disclosures at a meeting of the Commons public accounts committee will increase concerns over the access to government afforded to Greensill via Cameron.
MPs told Scholar and his colleague Charles Roxburgh, who held meetings to discuss three separate proposals with Greensill, that they remained puzzled as to why the Treasury spent so much time discussing what appeared to be a “Ponzi scheme”.
Greensill filed for administration in early March this year after insurers refused to provide cover for the securitised loans it sold off to third-party investors for cash. The move caused Greensill’s complex money-making machine to collapse, threatening the loss of thousands of jobs.
Scholar appeared before the MPs on Thursday in the first of at least seven inquiries launched by parliamentary committees, the government and the civil service into the collapse of Greensill.
He said he was first approached by Cameron last March as Cameron sought meetings with Treasury officials so that Greensill could qualify for government-backed loans under the Covid corporate financing facility (CCFF).
“When somebody you know asks to speak to you, it’s quite natural to take that,” Scholar said. “If a former minister I’ve worked with asked to talk to me, I would always do that.”
Scholar said Cameron, whom he had seen two or three times since the former PM stood down from office, was “persistent”.
It has previously emerged that Cameron lobbied the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and the Treasury ministers Jesse Norman and John Glen seeking access to Treasury funds and contracts.
Scholar said he was aware of Cameron’s approach to Sunak but could not recall if he was made aware of the approaches to other ministers.
Roxburgh, who had nine meetings with Greensill last year, said his contact with Greensill was through Bill Crothers, a former senior civil servant who was controversially cleared to work for the firm while still in government.
He said the firm came up with three separate proposals to work with the Treasury, but these were rejected after meetings between the months of March and June 2020.
One senior committee member, the Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, said he could not work out why the Treasury had spent so much time discussing “irregular” ideas with Greensill. “I’m sorry to use this word but it sounds to me like a Ponzi scheme,” he said.
Roxburgh said Greensill’s approach had come at a time when the government was looking for ways to provide credit, and so civil servants examined Greensill’s schemes before rejecting them.