Boris Johnson considers replacing Civil Service chief Sir Mark Sedwill with a leading business figure in Whitehall revolution overseen by Dominic Cummings – as Priti Patel refuses to confirm top mandarin’s job is safe
- Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has been the target of hostile briefing
- Return of career civil servant Simon Case put Sedwill’s future in question
- Dominic Cummings told colleagues of need for fundamental civil service change
- Claimed that coronavirus had exposed problems with the Whitehall machine
Boris Johnson is to axe the head of the civil service and could replace him with a captain of industry or other non-Whitehall figure as he plots sweeping changes at the heart of the Government machine
Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill is set to be ousted – perhaps as soon as tomorrow after he was accused of lacking the skills to deal with the coronavirus crisis.
No10 has been revealed as plotting a raft of wide-ranging reform as ministers seek to pin the blame for pandemic failures on departmental figures and scientists.
Last week Mr Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings was reported to have warned that a ‘hard rain’ was coming.
Home Secretary Priti Patel stokes the fires this morning when, asked about Sir Mark’s future, would not guarantee his job was safe.
He was appointed National Security Adviser by Theresa May in 2017 and made Cabinet Secretary a year later – and was allowed to do both jobs despite criticism.
A source told The Sunday Telegraph that Sir Mark is ‘fighting to stay as National Security Adviser’ and is resigned to losing his post as Cabinet Secretary.
They said: ”He is fighting to keep the national security one but they want to take everything off him and give him a non-job.’
And another source told the Sunday Times: ‘One option is to appoint someone from the business world.’
Boris Johnson is set to oust Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, ‘as early as Monday’ after he was accused of lacking the skills to deal with the coronavirus crisis
It comes as Dominic Cummings, the PM’s chief aide, prepares to take an axe to the Civil Service after the coronavirus exposed ‘fundamental’ flaws in the government machine
Home Secretary Priti Patel stokes the fires this morning when, asked about Sir Mark’s future, would not guarantee his gob was safe
Dominic Cummings’ long-running war with the Civil Service
Dominic Cummings has written prolific blogs on government over years that give a glimpse into his thinking.
In June last year, shortly before joining Mr Johnson at No10, he penned a 10,000-word post calling for an end to the ‘Kafka-esque’ influence of civil servants on politicians.
He proposed creating independent ‘Red Teams’ to challenge official advice to ministers – who would be rewarded for overturning the orthodoxy.
Mr Cummings has previously slammed support for ministers as ‘extremely bureaucratic and slow’ and said the civil service had presided over ‘expensive debacle after expensive debacle’.
He dismissed Westminster as ‘the blind leading the blind’, saying that for top mandarins ‘management, like science, is regarded contemptuously as something for the lower orders to think about, not the ”strategists” at the top’.
Mr Cummings has been upsetting the Westminster establishment for years.
He memorably nicknamed the educational establishment ‘the blob’ when he was adviser to Mr Gove at the Department for Education.
In 2014, David Cameron reportedly branded him a ‘career psychopath’, and Mr Cummings resigned from government and accused him of ‘bumbling from one shambles to another without the slightest sense of purpose’.
Mr Cummings described Lib Dem former deputy PM Nick Clegg as ‘a revolting character’, which triggered Mr Clegg to dismiss him as a ‘loopy ideologue’.
Appearing on Sky’s Ridge on Sunday today, Ms Patel said: ‘Reform of the Civil Service is a matter that gets discussed in Government and obviously a big role like that is subject to the Prime Minister.
‘But I think the fact of the matter is right now, this government is focused on getting on and doing its job; delivering for the country, levelling-up in the way in which we spoke about earlier on on the economic agenda, focussing on social injustice.
‘This is the people’s government delivering on the people’s priorities and effectively, any reforming government will be based around the type of delivery that our Prime Minister wants to drive for our great country and obviously have the right kind of support around him to deliver that.’
Mr Cummings, the chief architect of the Leave vote in the 2016 referendum, is preparing to take an axe to the Civil Service after the coronavirus exposed ‘fundamental’ flaws in the government machine.
He is said to have told colleagues the Cabinet Office will be stripped of powers after being found wanting during the crisis.
There were even claims of a bruising exchange between the PM and Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill at a meeting on the lockdown ‘exit strategy’ recently.
The Cabinet Office has been criticised for being unwieldy, unfocused and unresponsive to political pressure as ministers have attempted to avoid crises on personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilator shortages.
Critics fear that Sir Mark, who served as an envoy in Afghanistan, is too steeped in foreign policy concerns and lacks the skills to tackle a complex domestic crisis.
‘Mark could convene a (legal assembly) of Pashtun elders, wire up GCHQ and probably kill a man with his bare hands but Simon’s rather better at solving a series of ticklish problems and making the whole thing ‘tick’,’ a source told The Times.
When asked at a briefing whether Sir Mark was being sidelined, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘Sir Mark continues to work closely with the senior team to ensure that the government receives all the advice that it needs.’
Earlier this week, Downing Street refused to confirm if Sir Mark would continue to serve as Cabinet Secretary into next year.
But Mr Johnson’s increasing use of individuals from the private sector could be a sign that Sir Mark may not have long left in the Cabinet Office.
The PM most recently appointed Baroness Dido Harding, the former chief executive of Talktalk, to head the government’s Test and Trace programme.
Last week Mr Cummings’ war with the Civil Service received fresh backing as a new report laid blame for coronavirus errors at the door of the Whitehall ‘blob’.
Boris Johnson’s backroom fixer has set his sights on a sweeping reform, accusing mandarins of pandemic failures and reportedly saying that ‘a hard rain is coming’.
A new report by the Civitas think tank today attacks a ‘scientific clique’ within the system that ministers were too afraid to question in the early days of the crisis.
It came as Mr Cummings, 48, faced a demand from a Civil Service union for a Parliamentary probe into his treatment of special advisers, or Spads, over fears he is trying to centralise power in No10.
The FDA accused him of being ‘overly confrontational’ and attempting to ‘centralise’ control of advisers usually answerable to the ministers they worked for, in a letter to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
In the Civitas paper, authors Jim McConalogue and Tim Knox wrote: ‘It appears that the UK government’s early shift from the public information health campaign towards lockdown was the result of a lack of political will to question ”the science”.
Mr Cummings (pictured arriving to Downing Street) is said to have told colleagues the Cabinet Office will be stripped of powers after being found wanting during the crisis
‘Ministers repeatedly stressed their deference to the advice coming from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) and Public Health England (PHE).
‘These advisory groups to the government appear to have been granted ”a representational monopoly.” This explains how one crucial modelling projection study persuaded the government to overhaul its approach to Covid-19 and then impose tougher lockdown measures to contain the virus.
‘The deference to ”the science” was not justified. ‘The science’ made frequent mistakes. Worse, it led to inappropriate government responses to the pandemic.’
Mr Cummings has been a longstanding critic of the way the civil service works, calling for more modern organisation and data-driven policies.
The PM’s most senior aide is said to have told colleagues the Cabinet Office will be stripped of powers after being found wanting during the crisis.
In blogs before he was drafted in by Mr Johnson, he urged the introduction of ‘red teams’ explicitly tasked with finding reasons why the government should not be following policies.
He has been an advocate of ‘Super-Forecasters’, individuals who have no specific expertise but are able to predict events because of their mental process.
Mr Cummings has been particularly scathing about the way the Ministry of Defence runs its procurement.
But he has also been accused of overstepping the mark, including by having one adviser to former chancellor Sajid Javid frog-marched out of Downing Street last year.
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