UK head of the civil service retires due to ill health

By on 24/10/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Sir Jeremy Heywood is to step down to concentrate on recovery from cancer

Sir Jeremy Heywood has announced that he is standing down as cabinet secretary and head of the civil service.

Heywood has been cabinet secretary since 2012 and headed up the civil service since 2014, but stepped down temporarily in June in order to undergo treatment for cancer.

However, today Heywood announced that although he still had the same desire to make a positive difference as he had when he started working for the civil service 35 years ago, he was to retire following medical advice. He had made the decision “with great sadness”, he said.

Throughout his career, he said that he had tried to look for fresh angles, challenge lazy thinking and find solutions rather than simply identifying problems.

“Some of the toughest issues we have faced as a country in recent decades have required genuinely new or lateral thinking – the product of ministers and civil servants working closely together to deliver shared goals – including putting in place the UK’s new monetary framework after the 1992 ERM crisis and responding to the financial crisis of 2008/2009,” he said.

He said he was particularly proud of Whitehall’s work on Brexit, which has sought to bring “shape and practical options” to the table for ministers to discuss.

Serving with distinction

Prime minister Theresa May said that Heywood’s service had been “exemplary”, and that he had served “with distinction in the finest traditions of the civil service”.

“I am personally grateful to him for the support he has given me as Prime Minister. He has made an enormous contribution to public life in our country and will be sorely missed,” she said, adding that she had nominated him for a life peerage in recognition of his service.

Heywood joined the civil service in 1983 as an economist in the Health and Safety Executive, and has worked across government as well as in the private sector.

Sir Mark Sedwill, acting cabinet secretary, has been promoted to take the post on permanently with immediate effect. He will also continue to serve as the prime minister’s national security adviser.

Earlier this week, Sedwill publicly defended civil servants negotiating the UK’s exit from the European Union from attacks by politicians.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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