Top civil servant seen as 'threat to Whitehall': Ousted permanent secretary says minister wanted replacement 'from old school'

Click to follow
SIR PETER KEMP, the permanent secretary ousted by William Waldegrave, the Cabinet minister with responsibility for the Civil Service, suggested yesterday that he might have lost his job because he threatened the Whitehall 'empire'.

Mr Waldegrave told the Commons Treasury and Civil Service sub-committee in January that he had wanted to get rid of Sir Peter - who initiated Whitehall's Next Steps programme - because he did not have 'the right mix of qualities'.

Quentin Davies, a Conservative member of the committee, yesterday asked Sir Peter what he thought Mr Waldegrave had meant by that.

He said he did not know, but he added: 'I have also heard it said that Mr Waldegrave was looking for a permanent secretary of the old school. It may be that he wanted somebody less pressing for change, although for a department devoted to change that's rather an odd thing to want . . . I think maybe he felt that perhaps there was too much reforming going on.'

Giles Radice, the sub-committee's Labour chairman, then asked what signal had been sent out by his departure, and Sir Peter said: 'On the whole, reformers, certainly senior reformers in the Civil Service haven't had a very good time anyway, because the senior Civil Service is a machine built safe; it's built to withstand these assaults.

'If it starts getting persons inside who seem to be making changes, especially when one has moved from the periphery, the colonies, and the heartland of the empire has been threatened, then I think there may be some difficulty there.'

The main body of Sir Peter's evidence was that Whitehall's executive and policy delivery should be hived off - leaving ministers to specify ultimate objectives.

With the Civil Service costing the country pounds 20bn a year - 'an amazing sum of money; the ultimate overhead' - and employing 500,000 people, he felt that its fundamental purpose should be questioned and redefined.

Sir Peter, who afterwards described himself as 'a rabid market-tester', won high praise from John Garrett, a Labour member, when he condemned as 'disgraceful' the fast entry system, which facilitates promotion for high-fliers.

'I think it's actually not fair and open competition,' Sir Peter said. 'You get 40 or 50 people a year, you select them before they've ever done a hand's turn of work, and you bring them into the Civil Service and give them a gilded path through.'

He said that there had been 40,940 recruits to the Civil Service last year. 'So we have something like 40,000 people who come in on the, presumably, slow stream, and they are kept back, in effect, because these gilded youths are taken forward in this way.'

Mr Garrett said: 'That's the most impressive thing I have ever heard from any witness to any select committee, ever.'