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EXCL Dominic Cummings risking 'completely unnecessary' war with Whitehall, former civil service boss warns

EXCL Dominic Cummings risking 'completely unnecessary' war with Whitehall, former civil service boss warns
3 min read

Dominic Cummings is risking a "completely unnecessary" war with the civil service, Britain's former top mandarin has warned.

Lord Kerslake, who was head of the civil service between 2011 and 2014, cautioned Boris Johnson's most senior adviser against carrying out a "hubristic" overhaul of Whitehall.

And he called for MPs to be given a chance to grill Mr Cummings amid claims Number 10 is eyeing a "seismic" shake-up of the organisation's working culture.

Mr Cummings is a longstanding critic of the civil service, claiming that "almost no one is ever fired" in an organisation in which "failure is normal".

He raised eyebrows in Whitehall last week when he posted a blog calling for more "weirdos and misfits" to email him directly to work in Number 10, in a move that appeared to sidestep the civil service's conventional hiring rules.

The post came on the same day Rachel Wolf, a former adviser to Mr Johnson who helped draw up the party's successful election manifesto, said the civil service was "woefully unprepared" for Mr Cummings's plans, and warned officials they could face regular exams in a bid to end an environment "where everyone rises to their position of incompetence".

But, writing for PoliticsHome's sister title The House, Lord Kerslake - a crossbench peer who advised Labour in the run-up to the election - warned Number 10 against "excessive self confidence" in the wake of the Conservative poll victory as he hit out at the "rather rambling" blog from Mr Cummings.

"All of this bombast risks the Government going to war with the civil service when this is completely unnecessary," he said.

The cross bench peer added: "My overwhelming experience of working with civil servants is that they want to serve well the Government of the day. If anything the tendency, particularly in the early years, is to stifle reservations about policy proposals rather than speak out.

"A reform programme that goes with the grain of that commitment to serve, that recognises the strengths as well as the weaknesses, that engages civil servants and gets them to lead in the process of change is far more likely be successful."


Calling for greater Parliamentary scrutiny of Mr Cummings' proposals, the crossbench peer said the late former Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, who worked with Lord Kerslake under David Cameron, had faced "a lot of completely unfair criticism" from the media over perceptions of his "unaccountable power".

But he added: "No such concerns have so far been expressed about the growing power of Dominic Cummings. And yet his influence appears to be all pervasive, including areas like the operation of the parliamentary lobby system where his role and indeed expertise is pretty limited.

"In my experience, Jeremy completely understood the importance of power being accountable and appeared in front of a number of select committees to talk about his work. Dominic Cummings has previously been very reluctant to go in front of a select committee but an early appearance in his new role would now seem pretty essential."

The intervention from the former Whitehall chief comes after two major civil service unions warned against plans to shake-up the organisation.

The FDA, which represents senior officials, hit out at attempts to paint the civil service as "antiquated or resistant to change".

And PCS, which has tens of thousands of members in the civil service rank-and-file, vowed his organisation would "strenuously" oppose changes to its hire-and-fire rules.

Downing Street has been approached for comment.

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