Liz Truss’ decision to sack the Treasury’s top official on her first day in office was “very unusual and very unfortunate”, a former cabinet secretary said, accusing the new prime minister of behaving “inappropriately” in the public service.
Robin Butler – who served under Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair – said the decision to remove Sir Tom Scholar as permanent secretary to the Treasury would have implications for how well the ministry would handle the economic crisis.
“If there was ever a time when we needed experience and continuity, what the public service provides, it’s now. We have a new sovereign, we have a new prime minister and we really need the cement that can hold this system together,” Lord Butler told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.
“I think politicians are starting to forget the constitution. The public service is Her Majesty’s public service. A government wouldn’t come in and on day one sack the head of Her Majesty’s defense forces, the chief of the defense staff.’
Butler said he was concerned about the politicization of the roles of senior civil servants. “I think they are behaving inappropriately towards the public administration. It will weaken them, but it will also corrupt our system because one of those great advantages of having an independent, loyal civil service will be compromised.”
Before becoming prime minister, Truss repeatedly railed against what she called “Treasury orthodoxy”, particularly predictions that her plan to make large and unfunded tax cuts could increase inflation.
Scholar had played a leading role in tackling the 2008 banking crisis and worked closely with Gordon Brown and David Cameron before taking the top job at the Treasury in 2016. It is understood he was told he would go on Tuesday after Kwasi Kwarteng appointed chancellor under Truce.
Scholar said Kwarteng had decided it was time for “new leadership”. He wished the department “all the best for the next few moments”, adding that he would be “cheering from the sidelines”.
Scholar’s predecessor Nick Macpherson called him “the best public servant of his generation”, adding: “His sacking makes no sense. His experience would be invaluable in the coming months as government policy puts enormous upward pressure on the cost of funding. As Gordon Brown used to say: “They don’t think.”
Two possible replacements for Scholar who have worked closely with Truss in government are Antonia Romeo, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, and James Bowler, who does the same role at the Department for International Trade.