Fourth top civil servant quits in five months as Dominic Cummings' Whitehall shake-up gathers pace

Christopher Hope
·2-min read
Dominic Cummings has been a long-term critic of the civil service - Simon Dawson/Reuters
Dominic Cummings has been a long-term critic of the civil service - Simon Dawson/Reuters

A fourth top civil servant has quit in the space of just five months as a promised Whitehall overhaul by Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister's chief adviser, appeared to be gaining momentum.

Sir Richard Heaton, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, said he was standing down in the next few weeks – days after saying reports of his departure were "speculation".

News of Sir Richard's departure came after Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet secretary, said last week that he would be quitting in September, pocketing a £250,000 pay-off in compensation.

Last month, Sir Simon McDonald said he would step down as permanent secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in September "at the request" of Boris Johnson.

In February, Sir Philip Rutnam resigned as permanent secretary of the Home Office, announcing that he would take Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, to an employment tribunal.

Earlier this year, The Telegraph reported that Mr Johnson wanted to replace a series of mandarins as part of an overhaul of Whitehall.

Mr Cummings has been a long time critic of the Civil Service, attacking it in 2014 as too London-centric and saying that bureaucracies behaved in a way that ended up forcing "someone with a startup mentality" to leave.

Sir Richard had been at the Ministry of Justice since 2015, and was permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office for three years. He said it had been "a privilege" to lead at the ministry despite "challenging years", especially with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.

"But what I am most proud of is the way in which people from every part of the department and its partner organisations work together to get things done," he added.

Last month, Sir Richard hinted he could stay on after his five-year term expires at the end of next month, saying: "Whether or not I will continue beyond that will be the subject of an announcement, I dare say, in due course."

He first came to Whitehall in 1991 as a legal adviser to the Home Office, and has worked across multiple departments advising on criminal law, the constitution, and human rights law.