Exclusive: Top mandarin hits back at Iain Duncan Smith over universal credit smears

Sir Jeremy personally intervenes to stop Work and Pensions Secretary blaming Robert Devereux for universal credit programme debacle

Whitehall Editor

Britain’s most senior civil servant intervened with David Cameron to help save the career of a permanent secretary who felt he was being “hounded out” of office by his political masters, The Independent has learnt.

Sir Jeremy Heywood told the Prime Minister that, as the de facto head of the civil service, he was concerned about the “concerted political briefing campaign” against Robert Devereux over failures in the Government’s universal credit programme.

He is understood to have made clear that he did not believe Mr Devereux should be singled out for blame for the project and that responsibility also lay with Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary. He is also said to have pointed out that the public undermining a permanent secretary was harming civil service morale and was unfair because, as a government official, Mr Devereux was unable to defend himself.

Sir Jeremy’s intervention is understood to have been behind a very unusual statement by Mr Duncan Smith, released earlier this month in which he stated he had “every confidence” with the team implementing universal credit adding “and that team includes Robert Devereux”.

The meeting followed weeks of hostile briefings in the media against Mr Devereux blaming him for failures in getting to grips with the troubled universal credit programme.

Several newspapers, including The Independent, quoted political sources saying that he faced losing his job over universal credit. One reported that Mr Duncan Smith had rebuked civil servants in his department, accusing them of lacking professionalism and having a “culture of secrecy”.

But most damaging of all were allegations that members of the Government had approached Tory MPs on the Public Accounts Committee to ask that its report “name and shame” Mr Devereux and help force him out.

A Government source told The Independent: “There was a lot of anger at the very top of the civil service about the way Robert was being treated. He had fallen out with [Francis] Maude and Duncan Smith and they were basically trying to force him out by blaming all the failures of universal credit on him.

“But for God’s sake Duncan Smith was the minister in charge and it was his one big project. If he didn’t know things were going wrong then he clearly wasn’t doing his job properly either.”

The source said it had taken the intervention of Sir Jeremy to make the briefings stop.

“Sometimes it’s the job of the Cabinet Secretary to speak on behalf of the whole civil service and draw the line. And that’s what happened here.”

A Cabinet Office source said that Sir Jeremy was not “complacent” about poor performance but that such conversations needed to take place in private and not through the newspapers.

The episode highlights the tension between some ministers and their senior officials. While most are said to have good working relationships with their Secretaries of State at least two permanent secretaries have left their posts within the past 14 months having clashed with their political masters.

Dame Helen Ghosh left the Home Office last November to take up a job at the National Trust and Moria Wallace left the Department of Energy and Climate Change in October last year.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Iain Duncan Smith and his Permanent Secretary are working closely together to deliver universal credit - as the Secretary of State has repeatedly made clear. The Cabinet Secretary - and indeed the Cabinet Office as a whole - is providing full support to both of them as you would expect. Everyone in Government is focused on getting this project right.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
tech
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor