By Civil Service World

17 Oct 2012

A set of interviewees who went on to greater things


Nick Clegg
Interview published 25 April 2006

In an article aptly entitled ‘Forging a consensus’, Nick Clegg was interviewed just one year after he entered Parliament. Though new in his job as the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson, he was already recognised as a favourite to succeed Menzies Campbell as party leader. Clegg competently put forward a set of suitably vague policies on criminal justice, explaining that the Lib Dems were looking “in creative ways” at how punishment and rehabilitation could take place in the community, and railing against Labour’s plans for identity cards.

In December 2007 Clegg was elected as party leader, becoming deputy prime minister in May 2010.

Richard Heaton
Interview published 12 February 2008

Speaking to CSW in February 2008, Richard Heaton talked with passion of his job as director-general of the Department for Work and Pensions’ Legal Group – a role that he combined with that of solicitor to the Department of Health. “It’s great to be involved in the creation of laws, rather than simply applying them in front of a magistrate or a judge,” he said. “It’s a huge intellectual treat to work with policymakers to help them develop policy and get things done.”

Heaton’s enthusiasm, the cross-departmental experience he gained in the Government Legal Service, and his expertise in law later won him the job of first parliamentary counsel in the Cabinet Office, where he succeeded the aptly-named Stephen Laws. But just six months later a new opportunity came up, and Heaton now combines his role as the government’s chief law-writer with that of permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office (see interview).

Jon Thompson
Interview published 12 August 2008

A year after joining the then-Department for Education and Skills as finance director, Jon Thompson was tasked with breaking the department into two – something he described as “one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done.” He clearly enjoyed big challenges, and was taking on another as head of the government finance profession: Thompson conceded he was meeting “a little bit of scepticism” in his efforts to raise the profile and heft of finance specialists within Whitehall, but hoped to get a qualified finance director into every department “this calendar year”.

Four years on, Thompson is the new permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence. And the “capacity and capability of the finance function across Whitehall has improved because you’ve changed the leadership, and the leadership changes the way the system works,” he told CSW in an interview published on 3 October 2012 (p7). His new job, of course, brings enough new challenges to keep him satisfied: the MoD “needs to transform and reform itself into a professional organisation,” he said. “For me, it’s a great thing to try to work through!”

Sir Bob Kerslake
Interview published 18 November 2008

In his first weeks in the civil service, we interviewed Sir Bob as he worked to launch the Homes and Communities Agency. Recruited from a successful nine-year stint as the chief executive of Sheffield City Council, Kerslake called for a continued focus on design quality even during the recession. During Sheffield’s toughest times, “people thought that almost any regeneration was better than none,” he recalled, and “tons of money was invested in new places – but the quality wasn’t there, and in the end they had to be knocked down and rebuilt.”

CSW interviewed Kerslake again on 7 September 2011, in his role as permanent secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government. At that time, he was dealing with a major restructuring, big budget cuts, the push for transparency and localism, and the danger that declining morale would lead to an exodus from the civil service. Four months later, he combined that job with the role of head of the civil service – and now he’s wrestling with all the same problems on a still bigger stage.

Jeremy Heywood
Interview published 9 March 2011

In his first ever published interview, then-Number 10 permanent secretary Jeremy Heywood praised Gordon Brown’s work to catalyse international action on the credit crunch at the 2009 G20 meeting. Brown “deserves a lot of credit for his leadership role” in providing a “route map out of the crisis”, he said. But his recognition of Brown’s strengths didn’t imply a lack of impartiality: as Number 10 perm sec “you have to adjust to whatever the PM wants to do,” he noted. “Flexibility and nimbleness on your feet are key requisites for any civil servant”.

Indeed, much of the interview was dedicated to “replacing bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability”, the transparency agenda, civil service reform, and the complexities of operating in a coalition. Heywood is a past master at adopting, developing and implementing policies – something that clearly interested him more than management issues. Then-cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell “spends a lot of his time on management, and less time on pure policy advice than I do,” he noted. Eighteen months on, Heywood has secured his perfect job, taking the cabinet secretary’s role whilst Sir Bob Kerslake is head of the civil service. In that role, he can concentrate on working up and coordinating policy across Whitehall.

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