UK civil service CE John Manzoni to stand down in the summer

By on 23/01/2020 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Sir John Manzoni speaking at Global Government Forum's Innovation event in 2019

Sir John Manzoni, who has been chief executive of the UK civil service and permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office since 2014, will stand down in the summer, it has been confirmed.

Manzoni has been planning to leave the civil service for some time, and this week a Cabinet Office spokesperson went on the record to formalise his decision. “John’s contract was up in October 2019, but he agreed to stay on a bit longer to oversee the transition to a new government,” an unnamed official told the Financial Times.

Media coverage has linked Manzoni’s departure to the major civil service shake-up planned by the prime minister Boris Johnson and his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, and even to the accidental leaking of an honours list – something that falls far outside his responsibilities. But Global Government Forum has been aware of Manzoni’s plans for some time, and they do not appear to have altered.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior public servants, said he was unsurprised to see “conspiracy theorists have a field day” over what was a long-planned departure. “I didn’t always agree with John but his frank approach and willingness to engage impressed me,” Penman tweeted.  

Greg Falconer, who spent six years in the civil service before joining innovation foundation Nesta last year, was at the Cabinet Office when Manzoni joined. “His arrival felt revolutionary,” Falconer wrote on Twitter. “Six years and a knighthood later, he departs as part of the furniture. The fact Maude-era reforms are now just ‘the way things are’ is largely down to him.”

Former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude introduced a suite of reforms to centralise powers in fields such as digital and procurement, and to strengthen the civil service professions. When Manzoni joined the civil service, he was responsible for embedding the reforms and introduced additional changes, furthering the government’s transformation agenda.  

Manzoni’s replacement has not been announced. However, according to the Financial Times, Alex Chisholm, permanent secretary at the business department, has been tipped as a possible successor, as has Clare Moriarty, permanent secretary at the soon-to-be-disbanded Department for Exiting the EU.  

Private sector to public sector

Before his stint in the civil service, Manzoni – who was knighted in the new year honours list – worked for 24 years at multinational oil and gas company BP, latterly in senior roles including group managing director and chief executive of the refining and marketing division. He left BP in 2007 to become the president and chief executive officer of Canadian oil and gas company Talisman Energy.

He first joined the civil service in February 2014 to lead the Major Projects Authority, tasked with turning around poor project management in government, and became the first chief executive of the civil service later that year, taking on some of the management responsibilities of Bob Kerslake when he retired as head of the civil service. In Manzoni’s concurrent role as permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office, he has control of central government functions including the Government Digital Service.

Asked in a full interview with Global Government Forum what legacy he’d like to leave, Manzoni said in 2015 that he wanted the civil service to be “world-renowned for execution and delivery as well as for policy; I want the leadership of the civil service to feel more confident throughout; and I want the civil service to have got its mojo back”.

Speaking at the last Innovation conference, hosted by Global Government Forum in March 2019, Manzoni said Brexit was pushing the civil service to innovate.

“Never waste a good crisis – and this is a good crisis,” he said. “The question is: how do we make the civil service what we want it to be, instead of what we are – and there are lots of dimensions to that.

“We have been banging on about how we get policy and implementation joined up. With Brexit, we haven’t got any choice,” he continued. “It’s an accelerator.”

The next annual Innovation conference will take place on 25 & 26 March in London, and is free to attend for civil servants around the world. For more information and to register to secure your place, visit:

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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