Future of Britain’s top civil servant is in doubt as Downing Street refuses to confirm that Sir Mark Sedwill will be in the job next year amid Cabinet Office shakeup
- 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
The future of Britain’s top civil servant came into question yesterday after he was accused of lacking the skills to deal with the domestic coronavirus crisis, it has been claimed.
Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, has been the target of increasingly hostile briefings in Downing Street ahead of an expected overhaul of the Cabinet Office and senior ministers.
The question mark left over his position as the most powerful official in Government came ahead of what is regarded as an inevitable public inquiry into how the government has handled the pandemic.
Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, has been the target of increasingly hostile briefings in Downing Street ahead of an expected overhaul of the Cabinet Office and senior ministers
It has also been reported that Dominic Cummings, the PM’s senior advisor, has vowed to take an axe to the civil service after coronavirus ‘fundamental’ flaws in the government machine.
Mr Cummings, a well-known critic of the civil service, is said to have told colleagues the Cabinet Office will be stripped of powers after being found wanting during the crisis, adding: ‘A hard rain is going to fall.’
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.
Downing Street yesterday refused to say that Sir Mark Sedwill would serve as cabinet secretary into next year.
But Mr Johnson’s increasing use of individuals from the private sector instead of Government officials could be a sign that Sir Mark may not have long left in the Cabinet Office.
Downing Street yesterday refused to say that Sir Mark Sedwill (second from left, at Cabinet) would serve as cabinet secretary into next year
He most recently appointed Baroness Dido Harding, the former chief executive of Talktalk, to head the government’s Test and Trace programme. She is also the Chairwoman of NHS Improvement.
The Cabinet Office, where Sir Mark is based, has been criticised for being unwieldy, unfocused and unresponsive to political pressure as ministers have attempted to avoid crises on PPE and ventilator shortages.
Another concerning move is the return of career civil servant Simon Case to Downing Street, who was seconded from his role as private secretary to the Duke of Cambridge last month.
Mr Case is seen as closer to Sir Jeremy Heywood, Sir Mark’s predecessor, than Sir Mark, who joined from his role as permanent secretary at the Home Office under Theresa May.
It has also been reported that Dominic Cummings , the PM’s senior advisor, has vowed to take an axe to the civil service after coronavirus ‘fundamental’ flaws in the government machine
Critics fear that Sir Mark, who served as an envoy in Afghanistan, is too steeped in security and foreign policy concerns and lacks the skills to tackle a complex domestic crisis.
‘Mark could convene a loya jirga [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.’