Whitehall focus Housden to take over at the ODPM

29 Sep 05
New Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell has chosen a local government expert to lead the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and promoted a specialist to manage the Northern Ireland Office.

30 September 2005

New Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell has chosen a local government expert to lead the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister – and promoted a specialist to manage the Northern Ireland Office.

O'Donnell has appointed Peter Housden, formerly the director general of schools at the Department for Education and Skills, to replace the retiring Dame Mavis McDonald as permanent secretary at the ODPM from October.

Jonathan Phillips, the current political director at the NIO, has been promoted to the permanent secretary's post, based in London and Belfast, where he replaces Sir Joseph Pilling.

Both men have substantial experience in their new areas and will help to fulfil the Cabinet Office's aim of increasing the number of experts at the top of departments and relying less on the traditional rotation of 'skilled generalist' mandarins.

Housden, 55, was appointed chief executive at Nottinghamshire County Council in 1994 following a successful career in local government education. He was later seconded to the Audit Commission to lead the watchdog's work on the NHS Plan. He will work alongside David Miliband, minister for communities and local government.

The men face a heavy workload if Whitehall is to implement reforms to council tax, manage new funding arrangements for schools and reform adult and children's social services.

Phillips, 52, has built up substantial knowledge of the Northern Ireland brief since joining the NIO in 2002.

He has worked closely with Prime Minister Tony Blair and three secretaries of state during the search for political agreement in the province.

Former Cabinet secretary Sir Andrew Turnbull launched the campaign to promote more specialists as part of Whitehall's 'professionalisation' agenda.

As Public Finance went to press, the government announced several more appointments.

Bill Jeffrey, security and intelligence co-ordinator at the Cabinet Office and the prime minister's principal adviser on counter-terrorism strategy, is to take over the vacant post of permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence.

Sir Richard Mottram, the permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions since moving from the Ministry of Defence in 2002, takes over from Jeffrey at the Cabinet Office.

He in turn is replaced at the DWP by Leigh Lewis, who moves from the Home Office where he was permanent secretary in charge of crime, policing, counter-terrorism and delivery.

Union slams leadership networking programme

The National School of Government is charging business leaders £12,499 to attend a 24-day 'learning, working and networking' programme with senior civil servants and public sector managers.

The Leaders UK programme, which began last week, is the first NSG programme to be opened to business and voluntary sector leaders, as well as those in the public sector.

A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services union criticised the move as 'a good way for business to sell their wares' across Whitehall.

The curriculum covers personal and business leadership skills, managing reform and engaging consumers. It is being billed by the Cabinet Office as a way to promote better collaboration and understanding between the private and public sectors.

The brochure emphasises the 'intangible but invaluable benefit' participants will gain from being part of 'the network of cross-sector peers that will stand participants in good stead for many years'.

The Whitehall and Industry lobby group is involved in organising aspects of the programme.

A PCS spokesman said: 'There's an argument for strengthening the procurement skills in government, but there are better ways of doing it than over a pint of beer.'

A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office said: 'The government recognises that the public sector increasingly needs to work with other sectors to provide holistic solutions and has designed the course for those who show clear potential for senior leadership.'

Ex-adviser hits out at centralised decisions

A former senior government adviser and renowned Whitehall thinker called this week for an end to Prime Minister Tony Blair's personalised control of policy making.

Sir Christopher Foster, who was a special adviser to ministerial heavyweights Barbara Castle, Anthony Crosland and William Waldegrave, said policy and law making were 'over-centralised' and involved an 'over-concentration on the prime minister'.

In Why are we so badly governed?, a pamphlet published by the Public Management and Policy Association on September 26, Foster calls for a new policy and scrutiny framework that would allow Parliament to better hold the government to account.

Foster criticises the Labour leadership for its 'obsession' with media perceptions of policy, claiming this leads senior ministers to spin white papers 'to make them incapable of parliamentary scrutiny and good public discussion'.

This, in turn, leads to poorly drafted legislation, such as the recent prevention of terrorism and identity cards Bills.

Foster's conclusions echo parts of Sir Robin Butler's report into decision-making before the Iraq war.


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