Whitehall looks for new HR chief in bid to rein in Dominic Cummings

JOE MURPHY
Rocking the boat: Dominic Cummings with No10 aide Cleo Watson. He has taken control of the hiring and firing of advisers: Getty Images

The civil service has moved to curb Boris Johnson’s maverick official Dominic Cummings amid expectation that one of Sajid Javid’s former aides is set to win a big payout for unfair dismissal.

A new £60,000 official is to enforce employment law and uphold a code of conduct for the 90-strong army of special advisers, known as Spads, who work for Cabinet ministers.

It follows a series of incidents involving Mr Cummings, who has seized control of the hiring and firing of Spads across Whitehall in a move seen as strengthening Downing Street’s control over the Government.

Last summer, former Treasury special adviser Sonia Khan was frogmarched out of the Cabinet Office by armed police on the orders of Mr Cummings, who suspected her of leaking.

She was dismissed without her boss, then-chancellor Mr Javid, being informed. However, Ms Khan denied the accusation and is widely expected to win a claim of unfair dismissal.

Unfair dismissal claim: ex-Treasury special adviser Sonia Khan (PA)

Before the reshuffle, Mr Cummings upset Spads at his weekly Friday evening meeting by taunting them: “I’ll see some of you next week.” The remark was cutting because more than a quarter were to lose their jobs.

Salma Shah, a former Treasury special adviser, said an overhaul of the rules was overdue. “Quite often Spads can be at the bottom of the food chain without any clear rights and responsibilities.”

Special advisers work alongside regular civil servants but lack the employment protections that career officials enjoy. They were traditionally appointed by Cabinet ministers as political eyes and voices in a department.

Mr Cummings rocked the boat again by demanding that Mr Javid sack all four of his advisers this month, which led to the latter’s resignation.

The new post is designed to protect Spads and guard against them being told to break the rules. A job advert, first spotted by BuzzFeed, says it will pay between £52,500 and £60,635.

Applicants will need a knowledge of employment and case law. A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “This is a routine appointment to the existing team to support this ongoing work and does not constitute a change to the way special advisers are managed.”