'The kindest of men': Bob Kerslake dies after battle with cancer

Tributes pour in for former head of civil service
Photo by Mark Weeks

By Tevye Markson

03 Jul 2023

Tributes have poured in for the former head of the civil service Lord Bob Kerslake after his death was announced on Sunday.

Lord Kerslake died on Saturday aged 68 after a “short battle with cancer”, his family have announced.

His daughter, Eleanor, tweeted: “Unfortunately my wonderful dad Bob Kerslake died yesterday. We are all devastated. Dad had a few jobs in his time but the most important to him was being a truly fantastic husband, dad, brother, son and granddad.”

As well as leading the civil service from 2012-2014, Kerslake was permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government from 2010-2015. 

He was also head of the Homes and Communities Agency - which oversaw the distribution of grant funding for affordable housing programmes - between 2008 and 2010.

Prior to his time in government, Kerslake spent most of his career in local government and led the councils of Hounslow and Sheffield.

After leaving the civil service in 2014, he became a crossbench life peer in the House of Lords in 2015.

In a statement published on Sunday, Cabinet secretary Simon Case said he was ”deeply saddened” to hear the news.

“Bob will always be remembered for his immense contributions to public life, including during his time as head of the civil service.

“On behalf of the civil service, I share my condolences with his family, friends and colleagues.”

Former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell described the news as tragic, adding that Kerslake was "a great chief exec of Sheffield and then perm sec at Communities and local gov before taking over from me as head of civil service. Always generous with a great heart and a wonderful way with colleagues. He will be greatly missed.”

Mark Sedwill, another former cabinet  secretary, said: “Deeply saddened to learn of the untimely death of my friend Bob Kerslake. The kindest of men and a great public servant. My deepest condolences to Bob’s family.”

Nick Macpherson, former perm sec at the Treasury said: “Bob was a great public servant. He covered the whole waterfront of public service delivery from local to central. But I would highlight his deep understanding of Britain's housing problem, and his equal passion for solving it. He'll be hugely missed.”

Kate Josephs, former head of the Covid Taskforce and the current chief executive of Sheffield City Council, a role Kerslake once held, said: “Such desperately sad news, I was lucky enough to work with Bob in national government days, and the sheer scale of the impact he has had on our great city is immense. I will always be grateful for his personal support and guidance.”

Political leaders also paid tribute to the former civil servant, who had in the last few years been working with the Labour Party to help it prepare for the next general election.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, who worked with Kerslake when they were both senior civil servants, said : “Bob was a talented public servant, utmost professional, and a good man."

“He was rightly respected across Westminster for his experience and wisdom, and I’m grateful for his recent contributions to the Labour Party. Sincere condolences to his family.”

David Cameron, who was prime minister during Kerslake’s spell as head of the civil service, said: “Very sorry to hear that Bob Kerslake has passed away. A committed public official, he served the coalition government with great professionalism after a long career in local government. My thoughts and heartfelt condolences are with his family.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan said: “Lord Bob Kerslake was a true public servant. His kindness and commitment to improving our city and country will always be remembered.

“My thoughts are with his family and friends today.”

Prior to his time in government, Kerslake led the councils of Hounslow and Sheffield. Leaving the civil service in 2014, he became a crossbench life peer in the House of Lords in 2015.

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