Kwasi Kwarteng lines up outside candidate as top Treasury civil servant

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Kwasi Kwarteng, chancellor, is set to appoint an outside candidate to replace Sir Tom Scholar as the Treasury’s chief civil servant, in a move that would mark another symbolic break with Whitehall orthodoxy.

Antonia Romeo, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, has emerged as Kwarteng’s choice to lead the Treasury, according to people familiar with his thinking.

Romeo emerged from interviews last week as Kwarteng’s “clear preference”, according to government figures, although a final decision will be taken by prime minister Liz Truss and cabinet secretary Sir Simon Case.

Romeo would mark a break from the Treasury’s recent past. Her rivals for the top job have all had careers in the department, whose “orthodoxy” was denounced by Truss during the Tory leadership campaign.

Kwarteng sacked the popular and highly experienced Scholar on his first day as chancellor, a move that some analysts argued had contributed to investors’ unease about the new government’s direction.

Scholar embodied traditional Treasury thinking on “sound money” and played an important role in some of the biggest government decisions in recent times, including during Covid-19 and the 2008 financial crisis.

His sacking dismayed officials and Kwarteng had to field numerous questions about his decision during a staff conference call last month.

The chancellor said the department needed “fresh leadership”. It is mired in very low morale and disquiet about the direction of government policy.

Romeo is one of the highest-profile mandarins in Whitehall and forged a strong relationship with Truss at the Department for International Trade, where they worked together on a series of trade deals.

Romeo joined the civil service in 2000 as a professional economist following an early career in the private sector at strategic consultancy firm Oliver Wyman, but she has never worked at the Treasury.

The four mandarins also vying for the job — James Bowler, Tamara Finkelstein, Jeremy Pocklington and Peter Schofield — had all previously held roles at the Treasury.

Romeo has been described by some civil servants as a “disrupter”, a label she has rejected. “Antonia has done some quite difficult things, pretty competently,” said one colleague.

However, some Treasury officials, disoriented by Scholar’s departure and the sharp reversal of the department’s longstanding advocacy of tight fiscal discipline, had hoped Kwarteng would opt for an old hand.

“Bleak days for the Treasury,” said one veteran official at One Horse Guards Road. A decision is expected this week; the emergence of Romeo as Kwarteng’s preferred choice was first reported in the Sunday Telegraph.

The chancellor is also expected to shortly announce a replacement for Charles Roxburgh, previously the second permanent secretary at the Treasury. Both top civil service jobs at the department were vacant last week as the government battled market chaos following the “mini” Budget.

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