New chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has effectively sacked Treasury permanent secretary Sir Tom Scholar.
The Treasury announced this afternoon that it is launching the hunt for a new top civil servant after Kwarteng called for a “change of leadership” less than 48 hours into his tenure as chancellor of the Exchequer.
Treasury director general for tax and welfare Beth Russell and public spending DG Cat Little will lead the department as acting permanent secretaries while a new perm sec is selected.
Scholar, who has been Treasury top dog for the past six years, surprised many by being offered a second five-year term at a time when other senior officials such as Sir Simon McDonald and Jonathan Slater were purged from their posts.
Kwarteng and cabinet secretary Simon Case paid tribute to Scholar’s 30-year civil service career, the pinnacle of which has seen him serve as perm sec under six chancellors – and three different ones since the beginning of July.
However, a succinct three-sentence quote from Scholar painted a clear picture of the course of events.
“The chancellor decided it was time for new leadership at the Treasury, and so I will be leaving with immediate effect,” he said.
“It has been the privilege of my career to lead this great institution since 2016. I wish the Treasury all the best for the times ahead, and I will be cheering on from the sidelines.”
Scholar’s predecessor as Treasury perm sec Lord Nick Macpherson was disparaging about Kwarteng’s decision.
“Tom Scholar is the best civil servant of his generation. Sacking him makes no sense,” he wrote on Twitter.
“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’.”
Case said he wanted to thank Scholar both professionally and personally for his “remarkable” public service and leadership.
“Tom has been a steadfast and loyal colleague to so many of us – and we will be forever grateful for his wise advice, generosity, humour and decency,” he said.
Kwarteng said Scholar had been a “dedicated and exemplary civil servant” who had helped steer the Treasury and the government through many challenges, and that he left the civil service with the “highest distinction”.
During his time in the civil service, Scholar has advised successive prime ministers and chancellors on international and economic issues, and served as the UK representative at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
He became Treasury perm sec in the last days of George Osborne’s period as chancellor, then went on to serve under Philip Hammond, Sajid Javid, Rishi Sunak, Nadhim Zahawi and – very briefly – Kwarteng.