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Top mandarins revolt over ministers wasting taxpayers money

David Hencke photo
David HenckeUK
Top mandarins revolt over ministers wasting taxpayers money
A conflict is simmering between senior civil servants and government ministers over the right way to spend taxpayers money.

A revolt is stirring in Whitehall among the country’s top mandarins. While a top Treasury civil servant backed as “value for money” a £1 billion loss on the sale of RBS shares, in six other cases this year senior civil servants have revolted against ministerial requests to spend money.

The figure is remarkable since in the previous three years of coalition government not a single civil servant demanded a direction from ministers to spend money.

Now in eight months ministers have been challenged six times and all involve giving money to the private sector.

The one most recently highlighted was the charity Kids Company where two Cabinet Office ministers had to overrule a refusal by the then Cabinet Office permanent secretary, Chris Heaton, to spend £3m on the charity. He was proved right when the charity went bust.

But there have been similar tussles between senior officials and ministers in three other departments over payments to cover a private coal mine closure, new trains for the Trans Pennine Railway, consultant fees for an airport study, free shares for Rail Mail workers and subsidising private insurance policies in areas of flood risk.

These objections either happened in the dying days of the coalition or since the Tories won a majority.

The private coal mine objection came over the closure of Hatfield Colliery. Originally the government were involved in trying to save the mine but instead this was reversed and the money earmarked for saving the mine was switched to closing it. In this case Martin Donnelly, the permanent secretary of the Department for Business and Innovation seemed to want a direction to do this.