Horsham MP Francis Maude has fought back at criticism that he does not understand leadership.
Mr Maude, the minister responsible for civil service reform, came under fire by the former head of the service.
It comes after Mr Maude recently said Whitehall should take more responsibility for errors, the BBC reported earlier this week.
Lord Butler, of Brockwell, reportedly told BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminister: “I’m sorry to say, I really think that Mr Maude and some of his colleagues don’t understand leadership.”
He continued: “My view is that the relationship between ministers and the civil service works best when they work together in a mutually supportive relationship, with loyalty on both sides.
“And backstairs sniping, whichever side it comes from, shows that something is wrong and there’s been too much of that backstairs sniping.”
But in response Mr Maude commended those in the civil service but said they were held back by a ‘rigid culture’.
A spokesman for the MP said: “The civil service has brilliant people but somehow ends up being less than the sum of its parts, because of a hierarchical system and a rigid culture.
“It’s not right to patronise and infantilise people by pretending that everything is perfect in the best of all possible worlds.”
The spokesman said good leadership is not about sweeping problems under the carpet.
“Francis and the leadership of the civil service have highlighted issues which need to be addressed.
“The same issues are raised in a survey of 200,000 civil servants.
“We owe it to the taxpayer, users of public services, and civil servants themselves to address these issues in an honest and truthful way. That’s just what we are doing.”
Clarifying, the spokesman added: “What Francis said was that ‘everybody has to take responsibility for what they were part of’ - that’s axiomatic and the alternative is no responsibility and no accountability.”
It has been reported that there are clear tensions in Whitehall about changes to the civil service.