Latest Public Sector News


Senior civil servants should stay in post to see through key policies

Permanent secretaries and senior civil servants should be required to stay in post long enough to see through key policies and programmes and only be allowed to move before they are delivered under exceptional circumstances, according to a new report from the Better Government Initiative (BGI).

The group, whose executive committee comprises 14 former permanent secretaries and ministers, were looking into the deployment and development of senior civil servants. They suggest that “a clear expectation that senior individuals will remain in post long enough to see through key policies and programmes” will tackle this issue, and added that only in “exceptional circumstances” should top civil servants be moved or “allowed to move”.

The group also says that the recruitment of non-civil servants into senior roles, while welcome, coupled with the movement of senior civil servants between departments, has damaged “corporate memory”.

Executive committee member and former DWP perm sec Sir Leigh Lewis said: “It used to be that it was the perm secs complaining about the rate of change of ministers. When I was at the DWP I saw five different secretaries of state and eight pensions ministers. Now it is the perm secs who don’t stay anywhere long enough to gain the expertise to fulfil their roles properly.”

Since the 2010 election, the Home Office, Department for Transport, and Ministry of Defence have all had three permanent secretaries. Only Treasury permanent secretary Nicholas Macpherson has remained in place since before the election.

The BGI recommends four steps in addition to the requirement for senior civil servants to stay in their roles to help tackle the problem. First they believe the CEO of the Civil Service, currently John Manzoni, should be formally designated head of HR for the service and he should also be responsible for “a succession planning system for the Senior Civil Service”.

They also recommend the approach to filling senior appointments should be revisited to reflect key lessons from best practice in the highest-performing private sector firms. Finally they call on the PM to gain the commitment of secretaries of state and the lead non-executive directors in departments, to the successful implement the suggestions.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Pierre   09/01/2015 at 03:20

A surprising article in that implementation of change is usually done at a much lower level than Permanent Secretary or the Senior Civil Service. I can't think of a time when a Permanent Secretary has been instrumental and linked in to change to the extent that if they moved departments it would make a difference.

John Moore   13/01/2015 at 13:44

I see no reason as to why Permanent Secretaries should not stay in place providing they are capable of carrying out the Policies of the Political party in Government. Should they become obstructive by not carrying out of the policies of the Political party in Government then there is a case for change.

Add your comment


public sector executive tv

more videos >

last word

Prevention: Investing for the future

Prevention: Investing for the future

Rob Whiteman, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (CIPFA), discusses the benefits of long-term preventative investment. Rising demand, reducing resource – this has been the r more > more last word articles >

public sector focus

View all News


Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Bei... more >
How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

19/06/2019How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trust Network, argues t... more >


Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need ... more >