Earlier this month I railed about the extraordinary findings of a report by the National Audit Office which showed Whitehall’s abject failure to confiscate the stolen assets of criminals.
Theresa May’s claims that crime musn’t pay were torn into tatters by a report which showed what a woeful record the present government has in confiscating them.
You would think that her top Home Office civil servant – permanent secretary Mark Sedwill – would do everything to make amends for this poor performance.
But think again. When he came to account for missing almost every target set by Parliament a few years before his complacent response so angered MPs on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that he was sent packing by the chair Labour Mp, Meg Hillier.
Now Mark Sedwill has a stellar nickname – thanks to a jokey reference in a recent Christmas card put out by the Commons Home affairs Committee, which monitors the home office.
He is proud to be depicted as” Darth Vader ” the evil figure in the Star Wars movie – to Theresa May’s Princess Leia as part of cast of characters on their Christmas card.
As he told Civil Service World ” It’s always better to be one of the stars, even if you’re the dark lord, than to be disregarded. I think he’s the coolest character in the pantheon – so I’m not that bothered.”.
His performance before the committee was anything but stellar. And the criminals would be delighted that the man representing the Dark Side was happy to pretend he had recovered their loot.
He obfuscated, denied reality and pretended that he had never agreed with the report’s findings in the first place. He ven started quoting government propaganda that ministers were delighted with his efforts – which left at least £203m worth of assets uncollected.
So angry was one Tory MP, Stephen Phillips, a QC and member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, that he accused him of turning the hearing into ” a farce”and said his performance was ” an exercise in Sir Humphreyism.”.
And the committee abruptly halted the hearing – an almost unprecedented event- when Meg Hillier told him:” I do not think we have any option but to adjourn this. This is something I never wanted to do in this Committee. As Mr Phillips said, we want to get answers. This is a hugely important area and I am really disappointed that we are going to have to take this form of action. I do not think we are going to get very much further today.”
He has a chance to redeem himself next Tuesday when he will have to come up with some real answers. We have to hope this time the MPs will turn into Jedi knights to get some explanations.
You can watch the hearing here..