Ex-civil service chief blasts PM over decision to axe mandarin
Ex-civil service chief blasts Boris Johnson as PM ‘throws education boss Jonathan Slater under a bus to save Gavin Williamson’ amid exams fiasco as his £160,000-a-year mandarin becomes latest bureaucrat scalp in Whitehall shake-up
- Jonathan Slater will step down as permanent secretary at DfE on September 1
- Boris Johnson said ‘fresh official leadership’ was needed at the department
- Critics accused PM of throwing Mr Slater ‘under a bus’ after exam results chaos
A former head of the civil service has labelled Boris Johnson’s decision to sack the Department for Education’s top mandarin in the wake of the Government’s A-level results chaos a ‘disgrace’.
Sir Bob Kerslake said getting rid of Jonathan Slater was another example of Downing Street making senior civil servants take responsibility ‘for the failure of ministers’ as he became the latest in a series of officials to be shown the door by Number 10.
Meanwhile, union bosses said Mr Slater was the victim of ‘scapegoating’ and a Tory MP claimed the shake-up amounted to a ‘polite form of British terrorism’.
Critics of the Prime Minister argued he had thrown Mr Slater ‘under a bus’ despite widespread calls for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to take the blame for the omnishambles.
Sir Bob Kerslake, a former head of the civil service, said the decision to axe Jonathan Slater was a ‘disgrace’
Mr Slater will step down from his role at the Department for Education on September 1. The announcement came the day after Ofqual chief executive Sally Collier resigned from her post in the wake of the grading U-turn
Sir Bob said senior civil servants are ‘carrying the can for the failure of ministers’ as he warned trust between officials and ministers is being eroded.
He told Times Radio: ‘I know Jonathan Slater well. He is an extraordinarily experienced and capable civil servant. And I believe there was nothing wrong with the quality of his advice, there’s everything wrong with the quality of the minister receiving it.
‘And this is really not good stuff. I think we’re going to see a diminishing trust between the civil service and ministers which is crucial and an unwillingness to give the honest advice that’s needed.
‘They [civil servants] feel undervalued and insecure. And they don’t think the relationship is working between civil servants and ministers. And I hear that from a number of them.
‘They can’t go public. They never can and never should really, but I know it’s there.’
A Tory MP told BBC Newsnight: ‘The removal of Jonathan Slater… is a polite form of British terrorism. Nobody gets killed — but it’s a quieter way of keeping people under control.’
The general secretary of the FDA, the union which represents civil servants, called the sacking of Mr Slater ‘extraordinary’.
Dave Penman told BBC Newsnight: ‘This is simply scapegoating. This is simply the Prime Minister determining that civil service heads will roll to save a minister and that is as clear as day to the rest of the civil service as well.
‘So I think not only is this not good for Government, I think it will have very long term implications for the civil service.’
He added: ‘I think taken together with the other departures it is quite clear that this Government is treating the civil service in a different way to previous governments.’
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘Ministers who should be resigning refuse to take responsibility and lay into civil servants, the unfortunate fall guys and gals, for ministerial incompetence.’
Announcing the decision to remove Mr Slater from his post, Mr Johnson had said yesterday that ‘fresh official leadership’ was needed in the department.
The news that Mr Slater will leave his role on September 1 came 24 hours after Ofqual chief executive Sally Collier resigned from her post in the wake of the grading U-turn.
It means that of the people in the top positions overseeing the grading for exams that were not sat because of coronavirus, only Mr Williamson remains in his job despite numerous calls for him to go.
Mr Williamson yesterday denied that he had forced Ms Collier to quit her role.
Mr Johnson has resisted pressure to get rid of the Education Secretary, with suggestions that the former chief whip, who worked on his leadership election campaign, ‘knows where the bodies are buried’.
Gavin Williamson yesterday denied that he had forced Sally Collier to quit as the head of exam regulator Ofqual
In a three-paragraph statement posted online, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister has concluded that there is a need for fresh official leadership at the Department for Education.
‘Jonathan Slater has therefore agreed that he will stand down on September 1, in advance of the end of his tenure in Spring 2021.
‘Susan Acland-Hood, currently interim second permanent secretary, will take over as Acting Permanent Secretary. A permanent successor to replace Jonathan Slater will be appointed in the coming weeks.’
Mr Slater is the latest senior civil servant to be ousted by the Government under Mr Johnson.
Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill is also stepping down, as is Simon McDonald at the Foreign Office. And Philip Rutnam stepped down amid a bullying row with Priti Patel in February.
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