PM green lights £250,000 payment to outgoing cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill

Civil service head says exit is “entirely amicable” but hostile briefings against officials are "regrettable"
PM Boris Johnson with Sir Mark Sedwill. Photo: PA

Sir Mark Sedwill is in line for a payout of nearly £250,000 after agreeing to step down as cabinet secretary early, a letter from Boris Johnson has revealed.

The outgoing head of the civil service, who has also served as national security adviser to the prime minister, will receive a “compensation payment of £248,189” when he leaves the top Whitehall role later this year.

A letter from Johnson to Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm said the payment is “likely to be in the form of a pension contribution”, with the PM authorising the top-up “in consideration of his employment position” and “Sir Mark stepping down early”.

“You have advised me that this is regular and legal, and value for money to do so,” Johnson said.

“You have asked me to give my approval and make the final decisions because I am the responsible minister, and you report as a civil servant to Sir Mark and therefore cannot bring to bear the independent judgment required.”

The PM added: “I accept this advice, and agree that I should hereby direct you formally to make this payment.”

Former chancellor Ed Balls said the payment was “astonishing”.

“I've never seen anything like it,” the Labour politician told ITV’s Peston.

“It looks to me as though it's the basis of a legal settlement.

“And what was the basis of the legal dispute which required a quarter-of-a-million pound payment to a retiring cabinet secretary?

“I guess what would he have done if he hadn't got the money is the question."

The letter emerged after Sir Mark, who is leaving the cabinet secretary role after a spate of hostile media briefings against him and amid a wider planned shake-up of the civil service, told a Commons committee that he had not “resigned” but left his post “by agreement” with Johnson.

"We had concluded it was time to split the jobs again and have a separate security adviser and separate cabinet secretary," he added.

He told the National Security Strategy Committee yesterday that it was “never my intention” to take on the top Whitehall job in the “long term”, and said the exit had been “entirely amicable”.

But he hit out at the fact officials had now become "fair game" for hostile anonymous briefings to the media about their performance – a practice he called a “regrettable feature of modern politics”.

He added: "It is never pleasant to find oneself, particularly as an official, in the midst of stories of that kind.

"I don't think it is ever pleasant in government, whether it is against ministers, between them and particularly against officials, when you have briefings to which you cannot really reply, particularly those that are off the record and sniping away.”

Recruitment for a new cab sec is now underway, with a salary of £200,000 a year offered and the job open to current and former permanent secretaries.

The separate national security adviser role will go to David Frost, who has been leading the UK’s negotiations on its post-Brexit relationship with the European Union.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster is acting editor of CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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