DCMS announces departure of permanent secretary Dame Sue Owen

Written by Richard Johnstone on 30 November 2018 in News

Owen said she had been proud to lead the expansion of the department to take responsibility for policy areas including digital

DCMS permanent secretary Sue Owen, photographed by CSW by Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Sue Owen, the permanent secretary of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, is to leave the department, it has been announced.

In a statement, DCMS said Owen would step down after a 30-year career in Whitehall that also included senior posts in the Department for Work and Pension, the Department for International Development and HM Treasury.

Owen, who is also the civil service’s diversity and inclusion champion and has this year undertaken a review into the extent of harassment in the civil service, has led the growth of the department since taking up post in 2013. The then-Department of Culture, Media and Sport has around 380 staff but now has nearly 1,300 after taking on responsibility for telecoms, the Office for Civil Society and digital policy, leading to its rebrand.


In a statement, Owen said: “I love DCMS, it has been my life for over five years and I’m immensely proud to have led us through a huge expansion securing the future of the department, adding digital to our name, and embedded in a strong values-based inclusive working culture.”

The department’s name change came in July 2017, to reflect the department’s responsibilities in digital sectors including telecommunications, data protection, internet safety, cyber skills and parts of media and the creative industries.”

This position was enhanced after prime minister Theresa May moved responsibility for data policy, governance, and sharing across government – as well as overseeing digital signatures – to DCMS.

Owen’s role also includes acting as the civil service’s LGB&TI champion, and it was in this capacity that she was asked to conduct a cross-Whitehall review of the way the civil service handles harassment, bullying and misconduct allegations. The review came after the 2017 Civil Service People Survey revealed a lack of progress in rooting out bullying, harassment and misconduct – something then cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood described as his “one disappointment” with the dataset.

Owen’s review found staff wanted to see more evidence of managers acting to enforce “zero tolerance” policies and better support for workers thinking about airing grievances.

“While colleagues have heard our commitment to tackling harassment and misconduct, many of you do not feel you have yet seen it happening around you,” Owen said in a blog post outlining her findings.

“You are looking for much clearer signs of action being taken, issues and individuals being tackled, and, therefore, that this commitment is genuine.”

Owen, who was awarded a damehood in the Queen’s birthday honours in June, initially joined the civil service as an economic advisor at the Treasury in 1989, where she covered areas including macro forecasts, the labour market and Germany, before being named assistant secretary EU Coordination and Strategy in the Treasury in 1995.

She held this post for three years before stints as an adviser on family policy at the Number 10 Policy Unit and as an economic counsellor at the British Embassy in the United States.

She then returned to the Treasury as director of EMU Policy, euro preparations and debt management, a post she held from 2002-2005, before moving to the Department for International Development as director general for corporate performance from 2006 to 2009.

She then spent four years at the Department for Work and Pensions, first as director general for welfare and wellbeing, before being named DG of strategy. She moved to head up DCMS in 2013, replacing Sir Jonathan Stephens.

Owen said that “DCMS has talented and dedicated staff and a fantastic leadership team” that has “proven resilience for change and will similarly manage a change in permanent secretary”.

She added: “The test of a good leader is that the organisation succeeds beyond them, and sticks to its values; I know you will do that.”

The department confirmed that cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill is now launching a Whitehall wide competition for her replacement.

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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