Bankrupt financial firm Greensill Capital gained access to the government-funded loan scheme without detailed scrutiny, resulting in £ 335 million in losses to UK taxpayers, Whitehall’s watchdog found.
The National Audit Office said the state-owned British Business Bank [BBB] conducted a limited due diligence review of the firm’s application before authorizing access to Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS).
In a report released Wednesday, bank officials said they were also subject to “unusual” levels of interest from the Ministry of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. [BEIS] during the accreditation process, as ministers hoped the Greensill loans could stop the collapse of Sanjay Gutpa’s steel empire.
The bank cut Greensill’s access to the lending scheme after it discovered that six of the seven loans issued by Greensill Capital were transferred to Gupta firms on the same day, the report said.
In March, the Greensill Capital administration took over, endangering thousands of jobs and sparking an international political and financial scandal.
The supply chain financial firm came to the fore after it was revealed that its adviser and shareholder, former Prime Minister David Cameron, had lobbied current ministers, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, to gain access to another state-backed lending scheme.
Auditors examined the bank’s decision to allow Greensill access to business support schemes, which were set up to provide struggling companies with quick access to financial assistance during the Covid-19 crisis.
The report said that as part of a process optimized to accelerate the injection of money into the crisis-hit economy, the bank conducted only “limited due diligence” on applications. With minimal due diligence, he authorized Greensill to provide a loan of up to £ 400 million under a large business lending scheme.
“The bank informed us that it accepted as reliable key information provided by the applicants, including Greensill. For example, he cross-referenced Greensill’s audited accounts, but did not verify in detail Greensill’s statements of where he will lend, ”the report said.
The auditors said that as a sign of pressure the bank representatives were under to approve Greensill for the loan scheme, BEIS representatives showed an “unusual” level of interest in Greensill accreditation.
“The department sent eight e-mail inquiries to the Bank within 19 weeks about Greensill’s accreditation status and whether it could be accredited to provide a loan of more than £ 50 million per borrower,” it said.
In an email dated June 9, 2020, a BEIS employee wrote that “unfortunately Spads [politically appointed special advisers] are resisting and want information on when Greensill will be accredited to provide loans of up to £ 200 million. “
The bank set a maximum credit limit of £ 50 million for each group of borrowers for Greensill, the report said, but suspended the firm’s participation just four months after its application was approved.
The bank accused Greensill of violating an agreement to make six loans worth £ 240 million to various parts of Gupta’s business empire on the same day.
In a meeting with the bank, Greensill officials said they had not violated any rules and insisted that loans to companies associated with Gupta be backed by unnamed politicians.
“Greensill said it received ‘political clues’ that its support for the steel industry is welcome,” the report said.
The Labor Party said the NAO report should prompt further exploration of why officials and ministerial advisers have shown such a keen interest in Greensill, and demanded to know if ministers are behind their “unusual” interest in the bank.
Sima Malhotra, Minister of Shadow Business, said: “It is imperative that we learn the truth about the decision to accredit Greensill under the CLBILS credit scheme and about the company’s relationship with the GFG Alliance. This decision meant that hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer money were at stake. The government must admit the truth. “
In response to the report, MP Mag Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, said: “Unfortunately, it is clear that some of this mess could have been avoided if Greensill was carefully designed in advance.
“As with many decisions made during the pandemic, there are important lessons for the government about the trade-off between speed and accuracy in responding to emergencies.”
Catherine Lewis La Torre, CEO of British Business Bank, acknowledged that the adoption of a less streamlined procedure could lead to further doubts about Greensill’s claim.
“However, a less streamlined accreditation process would take longer, which would mean fewer lenders could be accredited and fewer businesses would get the funding they needed,” she said.
A BEIS spokesperson said: “According to the NAO report, BEIS officials requested an update on the Greensill accreditation process so that the department could assess whether jobs were at risk in Liberty Steel and its supply chain. It is perfectly normal and correct that the government collects all the information it needs when people turn to it for taxpayer funds to support a business.
“There is no suggestion that BEIS ministers or officials tried to influence the British Business Bank’s decision. All decisions made by the bank are made independently of the government. “