Top civil servant in Patten row quits

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The Independent Online
THE TOP civil servant at the Department for Education is leaving his post after only 10 months to become vice-chancellor of Exeter University amid reports of differences with John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education.

Sir Geoffrey Holland, who is 55 and one of Whitehall's most influential figures, will start his new job next April after 33 years in the civil service. Previously he worked as permanent secretary at the Department of Employment for both Michael Howard and Gillian Shephard, but he found Mr Patten more difficult.

At a recent Whitehall gathering he is reported to have told colleagues: 'Either he (Patten) goes or I do.' Asked yesterday whether Sir Geoffrey had jumped or been pushed, a spokesman for the Department for Education replied: 'He jumped with a golden umbrella and a big smile on his face.'

He pointed out that Sir Geoffrey had a house in St Ives, Cornwall to which he is a weekly commuter.

Mr Patten said Sir Geoffrey had made a notable contribution to the department. 'My pleasure in congratulating Sir Geoffrey on his appointment as vice-chancellor of one of England's leading universities is tinged with more than a little sadness that we shall not much longer be working together.'

Sir Geoffrey's colleagues had expected him to stay until he was 60 and, in particular, to work for the merger of the Department for Education and the Department of Employment. He was director of the Manpower Services Commission from 1981 to 1988.

One Whitehall source confirmed that he had personal reasons for wanting to return to the South-west but added: 'He did not get on with Patten. He disagreed with the way some issues were handled, for instance, the row over testing in the summer. He found he could not pull levers in the way he had hoped and he was not making any progress in his plans to merge education and training. He had spent most of his career dealing with training and had to spend most of his time coping with schools.'

An academic acquaintance of Sir Geoffrey's said: 'He told me he was frustrated by the way in which the department was being run by the politicians.'

Sir Geoffrey, who succeeds Dr David Harrison, said: 'I am delighted and honoured to have been apointed as the next vice-chancellor of Exeter University. I know enough about it and the people who work there to know that, together, we can develop the university into a world-class institution.'

The move is further embarrassment for the Government after the Independent reported on Monday that Sir Peter Kemp, a former permanent secretary in the Office of Public Service and Science, believes the management of the civil service to be 'in crisis'.