Covid task force head named DIT perm sec

Former Treasury spending DG James Bowler will start later this summer
Bowler attends a select committee hearing as strategy, budget and planning director alongside then-chancellor George Osborne in 2014. Photo: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

The civil servant who has been leading the task force coordinating the government’s response to Covid-19 has been named as the next permanent secretary at the Department for International Trade.

James Bowler, who was named Cabinet Office perm sec leading the Covid task force in October, will take over from acting DIT head John Alty later this summer. Alty is retiring.

The task force, which was set up last May, coordinates policy work related to the pandemic across departments and develops longer-term strategy on Covid-19. It also provides evidence to support policymaking and leads on the implementation of coronavirus measures.

Bowler spent three years as director general of spending at the Treasury, where he oversaw the allocation and delivery of £800bn of public spending, then spent a few months as director general for policy, communications and analysis at the Ministry of Justice before his move to the Cabinet Office last year.

At the Treasury, he was also co-chair of the Major Project Review Group and joint chair of the Finance Leadership Group. His previous jobs include director general for tax and welfare at the department.

Bowler is the permanent successor at DIT to Antonia Romeo, who was named MoJ perm sec in January.

Simon Ridley, director general of strategy in the Covid task force, will take over from Bowler as head of the unit. 

Cabinet secretary, Simon Case, said the appointment was “great news for DIT”.

“[Bowler’s] leadership of the Covid Taskforce has been exceptional and he brings with him a strong experience and expertise gained in a number of senior roles at HM Treasury and Ministry of Justice,” Case said. He said Alty had provided “strong leadership” to the department over the last few months.

Commenting on Ridley’s appointment as head of the Covid task force, Case said: “He has been a critical part of the team supporting the prime minister over the last year and I am delighted that he will be taking on this vital leadership role.”

Bowler said: “I am delighted to be joining the Department for International Trade. With the department having achieved so much in a short period, I look forward to helping to secure further progress on trade agreements, export and investment promotion and levelling up.

“I am excited to be joining such a skilled and dedicated group as we put trade at the centre of recovery.”

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