Crony row as Blair aide is tipped for top civil service job

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One of Tony Blair's top education aides is set to become a senior civil servant, prompting accusations that ministers are breaching the impartial tradition of the government service.

One of Tony Blair's top education aides is set to become a senior civil servant, prompting accusations that ministers are breaching the impartial tradition of the government service.

Conservative education spokesman Theresa May said it would be "clear politicisation" if Professor Michael Barber were appointed as the director of the Standards and Effectiveness Unit at the Department for Education and Employment.

Professor Barber is a long-standing member of the Labour Party and played a key role in the last election campaign. The director's post is now being advertised and, although it is open to competition under strict civil service rules, Professor Barber is regarded as by far the strongest candidate for a job which pays around £90,000 a year.

There is already concern in Westminster at the recent appointment of another political adviser, Geoff Mulgan, as a senior civil servant in the Cabinet Office.

Professor Barber stood for Labour in the 1987 election, contesting Michael Heseltine's Henley seat. He was education chairman in Labour-controlled Hackney in London, and spent many years working as an education officer for the National Union of Teachers.

The Standards and Effectiveness Unit is at the forefront of Labour's schools policy, responsible for such innovations as the literacy and numeracy hours.

Technically classed as an expert adviser, he already runs the unit so he is effectively being asked to apply for his own job. But the move from adviser to fully fledged civil servant is seen as highly significant by the opposition parties.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat spokesman, called for a parliamentary enquiry into the increasingly blurred line between the civil service and ministers' political appointees.

He said: "It's a worrying trend. The Government has put in advisers who are becoming pure civil servants. Who controls these appointments? And what happens to them when the Government changes and if, as is possible, we get a very right-wing administration?"

Mrs May, MP for Maidenhead, described Labour's political influence over the civil service as "outrageous".

A spokesman for the DfEE said: "Allegations that the appointment could be political are without any foundation. The post will be advertised internally and externally according to the civil service rules."

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