THE outpouring of grief throughout Whitehall and Westminster at the death of Lord Jeremy Heywood can leave nobody in doubt that he was widely respected as a man who led the UK Civil Service with competence, loyalty, dedication and integrity.

All the tributes paid to Lord Heywood come at a time when extraordinary scenes have been played out in parliament with the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid MP, announcing that Home Office officials created the very recent DNA scandal by deviating from policy without his approval and he is trying to find out why.

Then, only days later, we hear of Amber Rudd MP, who was the previous Home Secretary, claiming that her misleading statements to parliament about the Empire Windrush scandal were inaccurate because she had been let down by her civil servants. A picture is painted of an important government department whose officials are apparently very untrustworthy.

It is certainly unusual to hear ministers blaming their officials in this way. Normally, the ministers are expected to take the blame for blunders by their departmental bureaucrats and over a great many years many ministers have seen their time as a Secretary of State brought to an inglorious end by the lack of efficient support from officials.

In 2006 Dr John Reid MP, who had just been appointed Home Secretary, made the startling announcement that the Home Office was not fit for purpose. One wonders what he did to correct this situation because whatever he tried does not seem to have worked, according to the present state of affairs.

It is not only within the Home Office that ministers have been badly advised and served by civil servants. I am watching to see if the Grenfell public inquiry reveals what I believe to be the truth about successive ministers responsible for building regulations being told that there was no need to amend them, which allegedly has been in part responsible for the deaths at Grenfell Tower and Lacanal House.

This failure by government led to hundreds of high-rise buildings being wrapped in lethal cladding that is easy to ignite and spreads fire rapidly.

The public inquiry into the NHS using contaminated blood to transfuse patients, leading to an estimated 4,000 deaths, has only just begun its work and will take years to complete. Why has it taken nearly 40 years to begin this investigation? The answer is obvious to me.

What is likely to be revealed is incompetence on the part of civil servants who led ministers into making lethal decisions. The delay in starting to identify the culprits is to ensure that they have long since passed away or enjoyed a knighthood and generous pension over many years rather than jail for manslaughter.

These matters place a focus on how civil servants operate within a protective bubble that is very forgiving of underperformance. Honours such as knighthoods and ‘gongs’ are doled out irrespective of performance and are deemed automatic, although I understand that the performance of the current head of the Crown Prosecution Service has been so disappointing that her critics are clamouring that she should not be made a dame when she retires very soon. We shall soon see who wins that argument.

The years after Brexit are going to be very challenging for whatever government we elect. They will need all the ‘Sir Humphreys’ at Whitehall to be in the same class as the late Lord Heywood; men and women of intelligence, dedication, outstanding leadership and integrity, just as he was. They are not yet in post, according to recent history.