Which is more embarrassing: being the former chairman of controversial company Greensill or being a director of WH Smith PLC (LON:SMWH)?

It’s an easy question to answer (option A) for just about everyone except Maurice Thompson, who was the chairman of the collapsed supply chain finance firm and is currently a non-executive director of the retailer, famed for its shabby carpets and its keen desire to get you to buy confectionery while you try to pay for the newspaper you popped in there to buy.

WH Smith has expunged all references on its website to Thompson’s involvement in Greensill, currently the centre of a lobbying scandal.

That scandal shows every sign of being less a can of worms and more a giant trunk full of maggots, although thus far Thompson has escaped from being mired in the scandal.

A spokesman for WH Smith said the company would not take any action against Thompson unless he was personally criticised in one of the many current investigations into the collapse of Greensill, and the close relations it had with the government prior to its collapse.

There are currently three parliamentary committees conducting enquiries into various aspects of the Greensill affair, which has highlighted the prevalence of what has been called “cronyism” or “chumocracy” at the heart of government.

It emerged yesterday that the health minister Matt Hancock has a stake in a company that recently won two contracts worth £150,000 from NHS Wales.

Hancock, who despite being Health Minister would have had no direct say in who won the contracts, declared his interest in the company last month. Topwood is or was owned by his sister and other members of the Hancock family.

Topwood offers a number of services, including the shredding of confidential documents.

“Hancock has acted entirely properly in these circumstances. All declarations of interest have been made in accordance with the ministerial code. Ministers have no involvement in the awarding of these contracts, and no conflict of interest arises,” a government spokesman said.

Critics of the government have not been slow to remind people that during the first stage of the pandemic the government handed out more than £10.5bn in contracts without putting them out to tender, and there have been suggestions that these contracts were more likely to be approved if they came from parties connected to the government.

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