A former head of the civil service has sharply criticised Liz Truss for sacking her top Treasury official.
Lord O’Donnell said that the prime minister’s removal of Sir Tom Scholar as permanent secretary was “no way to earn the respect of the Treasury and the civil service”.
The permanent secretary’s removal, announced on Thursday, has already been condemned by his predecessor at the Treasury Lord Macpherson, who described Scholar as “the best civil servant of his generation”.
Ms Truss repeatedly railed against “Treasury orthodoxy” during her successful campaign for the Conservative leadership, arguing that excessive caution over tax cuts and borrowing was holding back the UK’s economic growth.
She is thought to be seeking a new head for the Treasury who will back her plan for unfunded tax cuts in the face of warnings that they will lead to higher inflation and interest rates
It is understood that Scholar was informed he was losing his job of six years on Tuesday, after Ms Truss was installed as PM and appoint Kwasi Kwarteng as her chancellor.
Lord O’Donnell said he understood that the PM was also planning to replace her national security adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove.
He told Times Radio that in her position as “a great public servant”, the prime minister should respect to those in senior public positions.
“She needs to respect the civil service and public servants everywhere and treat them with respect,” said Lord O’Donnell, who served Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron as cabinet secretary from 2005-11.
“And to be honest, starting with the sacking of Tom Scholar hasn’t been as respectful as one would like.”
Asked if he had “concerns” about the signal sent by Scholar’s dismissal, Lord O’Donnell replied:
“I most certainly do, yes.
“If you’re going to succeed, as a prime minister, you have to have the civil service with you. They are keen to serve the democratically elected politicians of the country. But … the respect should go both ways.
“She needs to understand that sacking someone straight-on with no notice for no apparent reason, someone held in high regard by chancellors of all political parties, is no way to earn the respect of the Treasury and the civil service, I’m afraid.
“And the same is true – it seems to be – (with) Stephen Lovegrove, who was national security adviser who will be stepping down.”
Thirty years a civil servant, Sir Tom, 53, worked closely with both Gordon Brown and David Cameron before taking the top Treasury job in 2016.
He served as Mr Brown’s principal private secretary before moving to Washington as the UK representative at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. He then worked as chief of staff for Brown, and returned to a senior post at the Treasury at the height of the banking crisis. He was senior advisor on Europe to Mr Cameron.
Lord Macpherson, who held the permanent secretary post for 11 years under three chancellors before handing on to Sir Tom, described him as “the best civil servant of his generation”.
He added: “Sacking him makes no sense. His experience would have been invaluable in the coming months as government policy places massive upward pressure on the cost of funding.
“As Gordon Brown used to say: ‘They’re not thinking’.”
The news was confirmed on Thursday in a statement from the Treasury: “The chancellor has asked the cabinet secretary to begin the recruitment process for a new permanent secretary to the Treasury to succeed Tom Scholar.”