Ministers have asked me if they can borrow money from each other, reveals ethics chief

·4 min read
House of Commons
House of Commons

The Government’s ethics chief has revealed that he has been asked for advice on whether ministers can loan each other money.

Darren Tierney, a senior civil servant at the Cabinet Office, said he had been approached for his view on whether such transactions are allowed.

His remarks, made at a hearing of the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee, will raise eyebrows and spark fears of another potential scandal in Downing Street.

He was asked by William Wragg, the chairman of the committee, whether “ministers or Number 10” had ever sought advice “on whether ministers should declare loans or donations to one another”.

Mr Tierney replied: “I’ve certainly been asked, I won’t name individuals, but I have been asked the question about loans between ministers before, not recently I have to say.”

Asked what his counsel would be, he added: “My general advice is it’s probably not a good idea. As a minimum, it would need to be transparent.”

He said if such a transaction were to be allowed, it would usually be up to the Government’s independent ethics adviser to give it the green light.

Lord Geidt - Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Lord Geidt - Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

But that post has been vacant since Lord Geidt, its previous holder, quit earlier this month.

Mr Tierney, who leads the propriety and ethics team at the Cabinet Office, has been in the post since March 2021.

That means the request to him for advice on a potential inter-ministerial loan was made at some point over the past 15 months.

Boris Johnson’s government has been mired in a series of highly public spending-related allegations during that time.

The Prime Minister faced questions in April 2021 over who footed the bill for a refurbishment to the No 10 flat, including gold wallpaper that cost £840 a roll.

It later emerged that Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row, a Tory donor, had contributed at least £112,000 to covering the bill for the overhaul.

Mr Johnson also sparked controversy in July 2021 when he failed to declare staying at the Caribbean villa of David Ross, another donor.

The holiday is estimated to have been worth around £15,000.

Simon Case - Oli Scarff/Pool via Reuters
Simon Case - Oli Scarff/Pool via Reuters

During the same Commons session, the country’s top civil servant insisted working from home is “here to stay” as ministers strive to get more mandarins back to their desks.

Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, insisted “hybrid working” had saved the taxpayer the cost of more expensive office space and is now “part of the system”.

But he also insisted government departments must ensure staff are making “full use” of the space available to them to deliver the best value for money.

He referenced a 2019 article by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for government efficiency, backing plans to increase working from home to free up public land for housing.

Mr Rees-Mogg has been leading the drive within the Government to get more Whitehall mandarins back behind their desks following the pandemic.

Figures from April, the most recent available, showed only four of 19 departments had managed to coax more than half their staff into the office.

The Prime Minister has announced plans to cut 91,000 jobs from the Civil Service, a 20 per cent reduction that will take it back down to pre-2016 levels.

Mr Rees-Mogg said there are “too many people on the public payroll”, but that cutbacks mean the Government can “pay the people who remain better”.

Ministers should “lead by example” and agree to slash the size of their own departments, Mr Case said.

“It would be totally wrong for the centre of government to be in the driving seat for demanding reductions elsewhere and not follow through itself,” he said.

“I’m sure ministers will be very conscious of their obligations and leadership duties.”

Mr Case also revealed that “a number” of civil servants have quit over the partygate allegations and that disciplinary action against the rest will wrap up within weeks.

He revealed that he had sought advice over whether he should resign if he had received a fixed penalty notice like the Prime Minister.

Some of the actions of No 10 staff “would be horrifying in any setting”, he added, vowing to “make sure this sort of behaviour is never seen at the heart of government again”.

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