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No.10 Backs Simon Case But Some Still Aren't Sure He's Up To The Job

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case (Alamy)

3 min read

Whitehall's leading civil servant Simon Case's future has been called into question, despite Downing Street's insistence that Rishi Sunak has full confidence in the cabinet secretary.

Westminster figures who have worked with Case on Tuesday told PoliticsHome there is a widely-held view that he lacks the experience needed to perform the highest-ranking role in the civil service. One said that while Case had been polite and courteous during their time working in government together, he had been "a bit out of his depth".

Others are more critical, with one recent government colleague saying Case had lacked the "trust" of Cabinet ministers and some senior civil servants. 

There is also a belief among some officials that compared with previous cabinet secretaries, he has not publicly defended civil servants enough during a period which has seen them attacked by Conservative MPs and accused of trying to thwart the Tory agenda.

Case has been involved in several controversies since being appointed by ex prime minister Boris Johnson as cabinet secretary in September 2020, succeeding Mark Sedwill.

His role in the Richard Sharp saga, which culminated in the latter's resignation as BBC chairman at the end of last week, has recently been put under the spotlight. Case has faced questions over why he decided to meet Sharp to discuss how the former BBC boss could help facilitate a £800,000 former PM Johnson, and says he cannot recall details of the meeting either way.

He has also been accused in The Times of pursuing a personal vendetta with former senior civil servant Sue Gray as part of a Cabinet Office investigation into her decision to leave her high-ranking Whitehall job to become chief of staff to Labour Party leader Keir Starmer

Political historian Anthony Seldon told The Times that Case he should step aside having overseen the "worst crisis" in the civil service's history and a workforce that has "never been weaker, more demoralised or less powerfully led".

Others have come to the defence of Case, however. One former secretary of state who worked with Case said he should defy his critics and stay until after the next general election, saying that amid the current "backlash" he had no specific charge to answer.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly this morning said the cabinet secretary was "very thoughtful and very professional” and that "the only person who Simon needs to have the confidence of is the prime minister”.

A No. 10 spokesperson said today that Sunak had confidence in Case. 

Former Conservative health minister Lord Bethell said Case had unfairly been made the Whitehall "scapegoat" and that "stories" about him had seemed "very one-sided".

"It seems like a lot of them come from the same people who were fed up with the civil servants at the heart of the Boris administration. There’s a lot of friction in them," he told Times Radio.

“Simon Case is not the typical candidate for the job, but he is a very, very emollient player who is good at smoothing over problems. He has some real strengths, and this hatchet job of trying to get him out... It doesn’t sit right with me.”

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