How Sir Philip Rutnam's name has become a byword for bungled advice

Paid more than the PM, it was a miracle he was still in his job: How Sir Philip Rutnam’s name has become a byword for bungled advice and toxic clashes with Ministers

  • Top civil servant Sir Philip Rutnam, 54, sensationally quit Home Office yesterday 
  • Rutnam was paid £175,000 with gold-plated pension as Permanent Secretary
  • However, he was dubbed ‘Sir Calamity’ by exasperated officials at Downing St 

Most people would have never heard of Sir Philip Rutnam, 54, before his highly unusual resignation yesterday morning.

Critics of Boris Johnson’s Government and his sweeping reforms to the troubled immigration system will have a new hero following the incendiary walkout, but they will be choosing an unlikely champion in the man paid more than the Prime Minister, yet lucky not to have been axed on numerous occasions.

For those who have kept a keen eye on Whitehall over the past decade, the name Rutnam is a byword for bungled advice and toxic clashes with Ministers.

Dubbed ‘Sir Calamity’ by exasperated Downing Street officials, Rutnam – who was paid £175,000 with a gold-plated pension as Home Office Permanent Secretary – always seemed to be ‘missing’ when his neck was on the line. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel’s permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam resigned today with an extraordinary blast at his former boss over a ‘vicious and orchestrated’ campaign against him 

In the rare times he has been under pressure, in a classic mandarin style he had always been able to brazen his involvement out, often leaving MPs gobsmacked by his excuses.

In the wake of the Windrush immigration scandal that ousted former Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Rutnam was hauled before the Commons to explain his role in the affair. ‘I’ve been in the department for a year – I’m not an expert on the immigration system,’ was his curt reply.

That 2018 appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee has become something of parliamentary folklore after Rutnam twice scolded his political interrogators for not providing him with their questions before he appeared.

A former Home Office insider said Rutnam, whose Who’s Who entry says his hobby is ‘taking family up mountains’, had been ‘nowhere to be seen’ during the scandal and two more junior officials were moved on instead.

They blasted: ‘Then, just like now, he oversaw a culture of politicised leaks and egotistical briefing from the department and has managed to avoid taking any responsibility or face any consequence for the Windrush scandal, instead staying in the role he gets paid more than the Prime Minister for, and throwing his deputy and others under the bus.’

But after the Tories’ Election victory in December, Rutnam must have realised he was on thin ice. Senior figures in the Tory party had previously called for his head, including Johnson ally Shaun Bailey.

Allies of the Home Secretary declared victory last night, claiming the former banker ‘knew he was toast’ and had ‘jumped before he was pushed’

The candidate for London Mayor said Rutnam had to go to ‘restore confidence in the Home Office’.

Born in South London, Rutnam attended Dulwich College, the same school as Nigel Farage. His career path was that of a consummate mandarin. Public school, Cambridge and a spell at the Treasury.

He briefly worked in finance for Morgan Stanley before becoming a quango-crat and a senior official at the Business department.

Earlier in his career, he had been humble enough to admit when he was wrong. During the 2012 West Coast rail fiasco, he was forced to admit ‘deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes’, adding that ‘more important than the role of Ministers is the role of senior officials, starting with me’.

However, in true Whitehall fashion, such remarkable disasters did not stop him climbing the greasy pole.

The catalogue of Whitehall controversies that earned him nickname 

Brexit: Criticised for being a Project Fear scaremonger, claiming the Army could have to be deployed to protect Britain’s borders if we left the EU without a deal.

Illegal immigration: Admitted that 739 migrants had crossed the Channel between January 2018 and February 2019, including 135 who escaped being intercepted by Border Force or the French authorities.

Windrush scandal: Accused of costing Home Secretary Amber Rudd her job after blunders over the deportation of Jamaicans. Then he went ‘missing’.

George Osborne said he had ‘seen the completely misleading emails [Ms Rudd] was getting from her Civil Servants on targets’.

Sir Philip admitted the Home Office paid out £21 million after mistakenly detaining more than 850 people. The TaxPayers’ Alliance described these as ‘huge payouts amid shameful episodes’.

Compounding the issue, Sir Philip shocked MPs by saying: ‘I’ve been in the department a year, I’m not an expert.’

West Coast rail fiasco: Sir Philip was the Department for Transport’s top official in 2012 when First Group won the franchise for what was said to be a ‘preposterous’ £13 billion.

The derailed incumbent, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains, took legal action and the Government was forced to admit officials had made ‘deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes’.

Sir Philip took a share of the blame, saying: ‘More important than the role of Ministers is the role of senior officials, starting with me.’

Network Rail controversy: Oversaw a £38 billion improvement programme of the state-run network. But the Transport Secretary later said it had to be ‘reset’, including halting an electrification project for ‘costing more and taking longer’.

HS2: Ran the transport wing of the rail project when MPs were told in 2015 that it would cost only £56 billion. Today, the final bill is estimated at £106 billion.

Emergency services’ new communications system: Supervised its introduction, only for the National Audit Office to say it was running at least three years late and £3.1 billion over budget.

Foreign students row: After the Home Office confessed to ‘significant mistakes and misjudgments’ over foreign students wrongly accused of cheating in English language tests to qualify to stay in the UK, Sir Philip said there was ‘real concern’ that ‘hundreds of innocent individuals, possibly more’ are continuing to maintain their innocence after being erroneously caught.

Police Tasers: Sir Philip tried to block an announcement last September that more police would be allowed to carry the stun guns. Ironically, the Government will finally announce these measures today.

Leaks: Colleagues claimed he presided over a ‘culture of politicised leaks’ at the Home Office.

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