Steerpike

Mark Sedwill’s golden goodbye

Mark Sedwill’s golden goodbye
Boris Johnson and Mark Sedwill (photo: Getty)
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Britain’s top Civil Servant Mark Sedwill, who is standing down as Cabinet Secretary in September, received a pleasant package in the post on Wednesday evening.

In a public letter from the Prime Minister, it was announced that the departing civil servant would receive a whopping £250,000 boost to his pension pot – an incredible amount of money for a taxpayer-funded public servant. In 2015 the government promised to cap public sector payoffs at £95,000, but the policy was never implemented.

Sedwill’s departure as Cabinet Secretary was announced at the end June, following multiple reports that he had clashed with Boris Johnson’s team about the UK’s coronavirus response. David Frost, Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator, will take over Sedwill's role as National Security Adviser, while the position of Cabinet Secretary is now open for applicants.

For his part, Sedwill has insisted that he wasn’t forced out of his position, and that he has continued to have an ‘amicable’ and working relationship with the Prime Minister. The timing and size of Sedwill’s payoff though suggests things might be a little more complicated.

The key line in the Prime Minister’s letter which authorises Sedwill’s payoff is that the payment represents ‘value for money’ for the taxpayer. ITV’s Robert Peston suggests this means Sedwill likely threatened to take the government to an employment tribunal for an exorbitant sum, which only then would justify the large payment being qualified as value for money under the rules.

Meanwhile, Mr Steerpike was struck by the PM’s assurance that the payment was justified because Sedwill is ‘stepping down early’. On Wednesday afternoon Sedwill made a rare appearance in front of Parliament’s joint national security strategy select committee, and was quizzed on his abrupt departure.

At the committee, the civil servant insisted that the timing of his departure was his decision, saying: 'it was at my initiative, the timing of it was at my initiative.'

He then added that he had never planned to permanently become Cabinet Secretary and assured the MPs and peers that:

‘At some point between the election and the middle part of this parliament it would have been sensible for me to have moved on. I hadn’t intended – don’t forget I stepped in as Cabinet Secretary because of the tragic circumstances of [former Cabinet Secretary] Jeremy Heywood’s illness and then premature death. I never intended to be Cabinet Secretary and I’d never sought this job.

…because of the circumstances of Jeremy’s tragic illness, the then-Prime Minister asked me to step in as Cabinet Secretary. But it was never my intention to do that long term. The longest I would have run would have been a little later in this Parliament…’

Which suggests to Mr S that the payoff may not be quite such good value for the taxpayer as the PM has suggested...

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk.

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