Former ethics chief Sue Gray returns to Cabinet Office as second perm sec

Whitehall comeback follows three years running Northern Ireland’s Department of Finance
Department of Finance perm sec Sue Gray giving evidence to the NI Committee for Finance last year. Screenshot: Northern Ireland Assembly

The former civil service ethics chief Sue Gray will return to the Cabinet Office after a stint in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, it has been announced.

Gray, who spent two decades at the Cabinet Office before being named permanent secretary at the NI Department of Finance in 2018, will take up the post as second perm sec at the end of this month.

She will lead the department’s work on the Union and constitution, the Cabinet Office said in an announcement.

The post means Gray will remain “fully engaged” with each of the UK’s four nations, she said on Twitter.

“Big challenges ahead and I am ready to get started,” she added.

In her most recent post in the home civil service, Gray led the Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team, a role that included leading the 2012 reform of non-departmental public bodies and an investigation into former Cabinet Office minister Damian Green. She was also head of the private offices group for that period, and became known as one of the most powerful civil servants in the UK.

Gray was among the candidates to become the next head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service last year. However, the first and deputy first ministers failed to agree on an appointment.

Gray will become one of two second perm secs in the department – the other being James Bowler, the former Treasury spending director general, who was appointed in October to lead the Covid taskforce.

Bowler is responsible for managing the taskforce and coordinating the government’s strategy to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts.

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