Gove recruits longstanding allies as UK Cabinet Office non-execs

By on 14/05/2020 | Updated on 27/01/2022
Michael Gove has previously worked with three of the four new appointees

The UK’s minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, has appointed four new non-executive directors – including two former Conservative special advisers and a Brexit campaigner – to provide advice, support and scrutiny on the department’s work.

Of the four, only one – Lord Hogan-Howe, the former Metropolitan Police commissioner – is not a longstanding political ally of Gove.

Simone Finn was a special adviser to then-Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude during the 2010-15 Coalition government, where she played a key role in cutting civil service pension schemes and shaping the reform agenda, and has known Gove since their university days. Henry De Zoete, nowadays a tech entrepreneur, was Gove’s special adviser at the Department for Education 2010-14 – working alongside Dominic Cummings, the former Vote Leave campaign director now serving as PM Boris Johnson’s key adviser. And Gisela Stuart, a former Labour health minister, was co-convenor of the Vote Leave campaign alongside Gove during the 2016 referendum campaign.

Driving the reform agenda

Gove is an enthusiastic proponent of civil service reform, and at the Department for Education introduced major changes while clashing with teachers and education bodies over schools reform. There have been no formal announcements from government about its reform plans, but a series of briefings from Johnson’s inner circle hint at reforms that would increase Number 10’s central power; make it easier to fire poor performers; bring in more outside expertise; and shake up recruitment, strengthening ministers’ role in appointing civil service leaders.

Departmental non-execs have normally been appointed from the worlds of business and public sector management, but Gove has long preferred to bring political allies into key jobs. In an Institute for Government podcast recorded last month, Sam Freedman, a former senior policy adviser to Gove, recalled that while education minister, Gove “used every trick in the book… to shove in a few extra people beyond the usual spad [special adviser] allowance”, hiring into civil service jobs people with similar views who could help to push through education system reforms. Cummings has also said that he and Gove “bent or broke the rules” to bring their chosen people into civil service jobs normally filled via a full recruitment process.

“I don’t think he’d be averse to bringing in more ideologically aligned people to help drive the wider reform agenda,” Freedman said. He added that the coronavirus crisis may give he and Cummings additional leverage in pursuing civil service reform. “I don’t think they will need me or anyone else to tell them that this is a very good opportunity to drive reform,” he said.

Focus on the government’s priorities

A press release on the government’s website states that “all members of the Cabinet Office board were appointed following open and fair competition”. The release says that new board members will work with civil servants and ministers and “will help focus on the government’s priorities including responding to the coronavirus pandemic, preparing for the end of the EU exit transition period on 31 December 2020, strengthening the integrity of the Union, and improving the efficiency of the public sector”.  

The appointees join the existing non-executive board members: Michael Ashley, chair of the Cabinet Office audit and risk committee – to which Finn and Hogan-Howe have been appointed – plus the entrepreneur Anand Aithal and business leader Karen Blackett. They will each serve terms of at least three years.  

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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