Pickles says he did not feel he needed to alert the prime minister to his concerns about appointments as the “machine was responding towards” his requests.
Asked why he did not speak to Boris Johnson or another Cabinet minister, he said: “I’m very cognisant that we are in the middle of a pandemic – hopefully it will be over soon – and I was just getting on with doing it. Given that the machine was responding actually quite well to me and I was reasonably impressed by the reaction of ministers, I didn’t feel the need to go.”
“If I had found the machine wasn’t responsive, then I would have wandered down and spoken to a secretary of state or the prime minister,” Pickles added.
Pickles suggests the “revolving door” of civil servants joining business has created the assumption among them that they will be “looked after”.
He says that culture has produced an “entitlement whereby the existing cohort looked after the cohort that just left, in assumption that the cohort coming up would look after them”.
“What we need to demonstrate is that if you break the rules there are consequences, and there are a number of consequences without going to thermo-nuclear option.”
Pickles declares there is “no evidence” that anyone has been made a consultant rather than a special adviser to avoid scrutiny.
Responding to a suggestion that this may have been the case, the Acoba chair says it was “an interesting thought”, adding that it “would be a very serious thing that would have happened and quite a short-sighted thing”.
He says: “I have no evidence to suggest that has taken place.”
Still addressing MPs on the committee, Pickles says the public have a right to know the arrangements for second roles being approved by the Cabinet Office.
He said: “I would expect it to be recorded in a register. I would have expected that register to be transparent. I would have expected the rules to be known. So far as I know, the rules have never been published. Therefore, I have asked them to publish the rules – this is not a satisfactory situation.
“And I think, not only you are entitled to know or I am entitled to know, I think the wider public are entitled to know what these arrangements are, how they apply, what criteria is raised, what checks are raised, what conditions are made on an arrangement to do so.”
In a Commons hearing when he got the Acoba role, Pickles said: “I do think it’s important for us to reassure the public that people do not personally get financial remuneration on the basis of privileged information they’ve obtained.”
William Wragg asks Pickles where he believed the scandal would come from.
“There are some departments like the Ministry of Defence that have a very clear system and pretty well established. There are others that are less well established.”
Pickles adds that there needs to be “proper procedures” introduced for the sake of “consistency”.
I was warning of scandal for some time- Pickles suggests
Pickles says that he has been warning of a scandal for some time “but this is not where I expected it to come from”.
The Acoba chair says there are “not loopholes” but areas that are not covered by the body across government, which should “fall within an umbrella of some kind”.
John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor under Jeremy Corbyn, asks who has raised these matters with him, to which Pickles replies “the proper channels”.
Pickles says that “not for one moment did I anticipate anything like Greensill”, but admits he had been “considerably worried about what has been going on below Acoba level” for some time.
Acoba, which is tasked with considering new job applications made by former ministers, senior civil servants and other crown servants, has been criticised by MPs in the past for being a “toothless watchdog”.
Asked “what is the point” of the body he leads, Pickles replies: “The point of Acoba is to put together conditions and delays to ensure the integrity of government is protected. But there is a misunderstanding, which I find deeply irritating. Acoba is not a watchdog, not a regulator. It has a very limited and defined role.”
Pickles, a former Tory cabinet minister, adds: “Part of the problem we have got is that it has not been clear where the boundaries lay. In fact, I hope this does not seem rude – there does not seem to have been any boundaries at all.”