Women leaders top priority for UK’s incoming civil service commissioner

By on 08/09/2016 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Ian Watmore was permanent secretary at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills between 2007 and 2009 and at the Cabinet Office in 2012. Photo: Paul Clarke for the Government Digital Service

Increasing the number of women in senior leadership roles is among priorities set out by the next official in charge of the body overseeing recruitment to the top ranks of Britain’s civil service.

Ian Watmore, who was permanent secretary at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills between 2007 and 2009 and at the Cabinet Office in 2012, is expected to be formally appointed shortly, following an endorsement by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).

He told the PACAC in a statement published today that he will consider himself successful “if in five years’ time the civil service as a whole will have moved into a more diverse leadership at the top, more women at the top, for example, and a greater pipeline of women coming through.”

He also said he wants to see a “greater breadth of skills at the top” and the right distribution of resources “in the system to help the country face its perhaps biggest challenge in modern times, which is how to move through the [Brexit] agenda.”

As head of the Civil Service Commission (CSC), Watmore will be responsible for leading the organisation’s policy development and regulatory decision-making; upholding the values of the civil service, which are honesty, integrity, objectivity and impartiality, and the principles of selection on merit on the basis of fair and open competition; and personally chair the most senior competitions.

Watmore himself was selected through an open competition which attracted 17 applications.  

Of these, three were shortlisted for interview.

The recruitment panel consisted of Sir Nicholas Macpherson, then permanent secretary at the Treasury who has since left the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, and Amy Stirling, non-executive director at the Cabinet Office.

Watmore was put forward as the preferred candidate by the panel – a recommendation accepted by the prime minister.

Now that PACAC has completed its examination, he will have to undergo a formal procedure which includes being appointed by the Queen.

This is expected to take place later this week.

Once appointed, he will carry out his work during two days a week, on a salary of £56,000 a year, on a fixed five year non-renewable term.

Because the CSC is independent from government, he is not technically a civil servant, which means commissioners are not covered by any civil service benefits, pension or redundancy schemes.

PACAC wrote in its report that Watmore “has had a long and distinguished career in business, the civil service and public life.”

Before joining the civil service where he held a range of senior posts between 2004 and 2012, he served as UK managing director for consultancy Accenture, and in 2009 briefly left the civil service to become chief executive of the Football Association. He has also “additionally taken a number of posts on boards, including as a church commissioner, a non-executive director at the Office of the Information Commissioner and chair of the trustees at the Migraine Trust,” the report states.

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See also:

UK minister signals rethink on ‘guided distribution’ performance management

Lord O’Donnell, former Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, UK: Exclusive Interview

Rolf Alter, Director for Public Governance and Territorial Development, OECD: exclusive interview

Rupert McNeil, chief people officer for the UK Civil Service: exclusive interview

Sir Paul Jenkins, former UK Treasury Solicitor: EU Referendum interview

Jon Thompson, former permanent secretary of the UK Ministry of Defence, and now chief executive of HM Revenue & Customs: Exclusive Interview

Research tracks gender equality among G20 officials


About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

One Comment

  1. rick aston says:

    Why are a certin section of workers being targeted for top jobs with others possibly not being taken into consideration?, i have said it before the best person for any job is the most qualified to do it,not because they are a man, a woman, or an ethnic minority or any other type of diversity applicant etc etc..why has Ian Whatmore got this top job?,why not a woman? or some other diverse applicant or is he just the best qualified person for the job

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