Mark Sedwill’s successor will be tasked, ultimately, with sustaining the institutions of our democracyby Philip Rycroft / July 2, 2020 / Leave a comment
The civil service faces its most challenging 12 months in a generation. The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has upended the economy, but public services too will take months to get back on an even keel. Meanwhile, in a unique experiment, the UK will be busy extricating itself from the single market and customs union under the terms of a deal which is some way from being concluded or, perhaps, with no deal at all.
An interesting time to drop the pilot.
Mark Sedwill took up the job of cabinet secretary at a moment of excruciating political tension, just before Theresa May’s cabinet met for what was probably the most important meeting of her premiership, at Chequers in July 2018. Within days, the new cabinet secretary was dealing with two high-profile resignations and a sea of trouble for the PM’s plan for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
It’s hardly been plain sailing since. Through the turbid politics of Brexit, the planning for a series of no-deal deadlines, a change of prime minister, an election and the worst public health crisis in nearly 100 years, he’s packed a lot in. A shame, then, that his extraordinary experience will only be available to the government for a few more months.
Events are unlikely to slow down for his successor; whoever clinches the job will likewise have to jump into the deep end of the pool. Not the least of things on the to-do list will be to take forward the template for reform of the civil service set out by Michael Gove, with exquisite timing, just two days before the announcement that Sedwill was to stand down.
For all the radicalism of that reform vision, Gove did not go so far as to recommend the politicisation of the civil service. Perhaps that will calm some of the excited chatter about the need for the new cabinet secretary to be a Brexit true believer. That would be a fundamental shift in the rules of the game, changing the role from one of impartial adviser to the prime minister to become an advocate for his political priorities, much as would be the case if Nicola Sturgeon insisted that the permanent secretary of the Scottish government should be a card-carrying nationalist. It…