Oliver Wright: The dismissal Downing St was forced to dismiss

Inside Whitehall: The Civil Service is a very, very big organisation and it needs someone with corporate expertise to run it

There are some pieces of information that newspapers receive that are true, but so awkward, that if you write them they have to be denied. And so it was last Wednesday.

That afternoon – as Sir Bob Kerslake, the Head of the Civil Service, was sitting with ministers launching the Government’s review of its Civil Service reform plans – The Independent received credible information that he was on the verge of being dismissed.

The source was impeccable and explicit. David Cameron had concluded he was failing in the job and had told Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, to draw up a shortlist of possible replacements. The story – a Prime Minister intervening to effectively sack one of his most senior officials less than two years after appointing him – was obviously embarrassing for Downing Street.

Ministers don’t like to be seen to be directly intervening – afraid that they will be accused of politicising the Civil Service.

During Wednesday afternoon, two other independent sources confirmed that Sir Bob was to leave – and that the Prime Minister had a role in it. We went to Downing Street for a comment.

Three hours later, at 8pm, they issued a categorical denial. “This story is untrue. The Prime Minister fully supports the work Bob Kerslake is doing as Head of the Civil Service,” they said. So we decided to hold back from publishing the story to check it again. But we were right. The Prime Minister had decided he wanted to remove Sir Bob and told others he was going. But it was far from clear that anyone had spoken to Sir Bob – or whether he would continue in his other role as Permanent Secretary in the Department of Communities.

As a result of the story (which we published on Friday), Mr Cameron has been forced to delay the move – to avoid a potentially damaging public row and accusations that he was compromising the neutrality of the Civil Service. But it will happen. Senior sources suggest that Mr Cameron is looking to appoint a successor to Sir Bob from outside the Civil Service altogether – an unprecedented move.

They want someone from the private sector with experience in running a large organisation. The role will also be beefed up and made full time with more power, vis-à-vis the Cabinet Secretary and the other permanent secretaries.

“There is a realisation that the Civil Service is a very, very big organisation,” said one person familiar with the Government’s thinking. “It needs someone with corporate expertise to run it full time.”

So when is it going to happen? Our story has delayed the change – an acceptable amount of time has to pass for it to be dressed up as a natural move. As one senior government source put it: “If you’re asking me if he’s going next week, the answer is no. But you and I both know these jobs don’t last forever.”

... and one exit that is genuinely regrettable

One departure that ministers really didn’t want was that of David Pitchford – the head of the Government’s Major Project Authority.

A no-nonsense Australian, Mr Pitchford was brought into Whitehall in 2011 to provide private sector experience of how to run big infrastructure projects –  having previously been head of the company that built the famous “palm” peninsula in Dubai.

No one at the top level of Government has a bad word to say about him. He has been credited with helping to put its troubled Universal Credit project back on track and has set up an “early warning” system to alert ministers when big programmes are going wrong.

While his return to Australia in September is genuinely for family reasons, it comes at a time of considerable staff churn in the Cabinet Office.

Ideally ministers are looking for another outsider with private sector experience to replace him – but with billions of pounds of capital projects such as HS2 in the pipeline they are acutely aware that whoever gets the job won’t have long to get up to speed. And political and financial consequences of failure are vast.

Sub-committee rules on the ethics of retweeting

Bizarre as it may sound, civil servants have just been given new informal guidance on when they can and can’t retweet ministers. Some officials working in press offices had apparently claimed it breached rules of impartiality to use official government Twitter accounts to retweet what their ministers were saying on their own accounts.

Now, following a ruling by the Cabinet Office’s ethics team, they have been told that as long as the tweet is pertinent to government business then retweets are acceptable. Who needs The Thick of It when you have real-life Whitehall?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism