DECC's Stephen Lovegrove to succeed Jon Thompson as Ministry of Defence permanent secretary

Written by Matt Foster on 9 March 2016 in News

Lovegrove to leave DECC after three years at the top, taking over from Jon Thompson at the MoD "shortly"

Stephen Lovegrove has been named as the new permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, after three years as the most senior official at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Lovegrove has served as DECC perm sec since February 2013, and the MoD announced on Wednesday that he would "shortly" be succeeding Jon Thompson, who is moving from the defence ministry to become chief executive of HM Revenue and Customs.

The incoming MoD perm sec said he was looking forward to "getting to grips" the department's "many different challenges, not least implementing last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review".

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Lovegrove added: "It has been a great personal and professional privilege to lead DECC over the last three years, and it is a wrench to be leaving such a tremendous department and such expert and dedicated colleagues and friends. 

"During my time here we have made lasting changes to transition to a low carbon energy system, and played a hugely influential role in the achievement of a global deal to combat climate change, and I am very proud to have been a part of that. Nevertheless, I am delighted to be given the opportunity to tackle new challenges at the Ministry of Defence with the excellent team there."

Lovegrove's work at the MoD will be framed by last year's Strategic Defence and Security Review, which committed the government to increasing defence spending every year and said the UK would continue to meet a Nato target of spending 2% of GDP on defence for the rest of the decade.

But the review also outlined proposals to reduce the MoD's estate by 30%, while the MoD is set to axe almost a third of its civil service roles by the end of the parliament, prompting warnings from unions about is ability to deliver on the SDSR.

Lovegrove's current ministerial boss, energy secretary Amber Rudd, said the perm sec had "played a crucial part" in making Decc a department "which is focused on putting consumers first, and making sure the country has secure, affordable and clean energy that our families and businesses can rely on now and in the future".

Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood meanwhile paid tribute to Lovegrove – who has also served as chief executive of the Shareholder Executive and as a director general at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – as having done "a superb job leading Decc over the last three years".

"His skills and experience leave him strongly placed to lead MOD’s vital and complex operations," Heywood added.

Before joining Whitehall, Lovegrove – who told CSW last year that he had a "lamentable weakness for gangster films" – spent eleven yeas at Deutsche Bank. He also sat on the board of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

According to the government, Lovegrove's role is likely to be filled by an acting perm sec "in the short term" as the department looks for a new leader.

The announcement marks the latest leadership move at the top of Whitehall, with changes announced at perm sec level in HMRC, the Department of Health, the Department for Education and the Treasury since the end of last year. It was also announced yesterday that Crown Commercial Service chief Sally Collier is set to move to exams regulator Ofqual, triggering a hunt for her successor as leader of the government procurement arm.

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Matt Foster is deputy editor of Civil Service World. He tweets as @CSWDepEd

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Submitted on 9 March, 2016 - 14:22
The new Permanent Secretary will be tested fully in trying to get MoD’s defence procurement organisation at Abbey Wood, Bristol to deliver year-on-year reductions in its operating costs (of £1,100 million per year) during this Parliament. In addition, MoD Abbey Wood is required to make a contribution to the 30% cut in MoD’s civilian workforce. One way he can achieve this is by aggressively bearing down on overhead costs – by searching out and replacing people at every level of the hierarchy at Abbey Wood – that is, those on the payroll who are not adding any value to business operations, only costs – with a new type of post-holder, the Task Performer/Manager. This substitution should be done on a three for one basis. The Task Performer/Manager is similar to a Player/Manager in sport in that he combines the role of a person who gets hands-on with the all-important task of doing the work, as well as, performing the essential but, intermittent management tasks of assembling the team, leading, mentoring and coordinating with other Task Performer/Managers. The most important elements of the Task Performer/Manager’s responsibilities include: (a) Setting (and revising) the Requirement in consultation with the User and providing direction to Bidders. (b) Designing and utilising a Marking Scheme that has previously been revealed to ITT recipients. (c) Running the winner-takes-all competition and removing Bidders progressively, one-by-one – at the start, and at the end of each Contract performance phase. (d) Carrying out the policing function of monitoring and scrutinising the performance of Contractors during each Contract performance phase. (e) Selecting the winning Contractor and ultimately overseeing his performance during the full term of the main Contract to make sure he delivers against his promise. Accordingly, Task Performer/Managers should be talented enough to be able to express the whole of the Requirement in plain English (without inconsistency or duplication) in such a way that, it cannot be interpreted any other way than intended. But more importantly, they will need to show leadership by example. Incidentally, it is not the job of Task Performer/Managers to partake in detailed design decisions relating to evolving Technical Solutions, do ‘analysis’ work, make trade-off choices or tutor Contractors on how to satisfy the Requirement. Note that doing PowerPoint presentations is not on the above list. A substantial amount of time spent doing this work (recorded on timesheets) is chargeable as Direct labour to the entity paying for the work to be done, i.e. the military customer or Front Line Commands, whilst the remainder is Indirect Labour. This utility function is best suited to professionally qualified, multi-disciplined, performance-orientated people imported from the Private Sector whose first and foremost instinct is to solve the problem and get the job done, notwithstanding the constraints. Additionally, this approach provides certainty that continuity of direction will be provided to Contractors during the full period of the acquisition programme, a huge improvement on the present applied practice of simply rotating here-today-gone-tomorrow procurement officials. A further benefit to be derived from appointing Task Performer/Managers is that the risk that the wrong person who does not possess the appropriate subject matter expertise in the relevant discipline will end up being selected is eliminated, at a stroke – an all too frequent occurrence right now, which would explain why MoD Abbey Wood is institutionally inept and inefficient. @JagPatel3 on twitter

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