Cabinet Office DG and former DExEU official Sarah Healey named DCMS perm sec

Current DG of Economic and Domestic secretariat in the Cabinet Office will replace Sue Owen at the start of next month

Photo: Parliament TV

By Richard Johnstone

11 Mar 2019

Sarah Healey has been appointed as the new permanent secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to take over from Dame Sue Owen, who will retire at the end of this month.

Healey will return to the department, where she worked from 2013 to 2016, from the Cabinet Office, where she has been director general of the Economic and Domestic Secretariat since July last year. Upon leaving DCMS in 2016, she became one of the first group of civil servants to join the Department for Exiting the European Union, where she helped build the department once it was formed by prime minister Theresa May.

Healey’s other roles in government include a spell in the prime minister’s strategy unit, as well as working as director for private pensions at DWP, and director of strategy and then education funding at the Department for Education from 2009 to 2013. She has appeared on University Challenge three times, winning the series in 1998 before competing twice in its champion of champion shows.


Announcing her appointment to the DCMS top job, cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said Healey had “built a wealth of knowledge and experience from her previous roles across Whitehall, which positions her as the ideal candidate to take over the important role as permanent secretary of DCMS. I know she is pleased to return to the department.”

Healey said she was “absolutely thrilled” to be named to as perm sec. “I know what a brilliant department it is from my time there as director general and have watched it grow and continue to change for the better and better over the last couple of years.

“Sue will be such a tough act to follow, but I am really looking forward to working with ministers and the team on the important challenges DCMS and its extended family have in shaping the future of the country.”

Culture secretary Jeremy Wright said he was pleased to welcome Healey back to the department and that he looked forward to working closely with her.

“Sarah’s recent experience of working on EU exit, combined with her years of experience at DCMS, will be extremely valuable and I know that she will make an outstanding contribution to the department,” he said.

“I would also like to thank Dame Sue Owen, who has led the department with distinction over the past five and a half years. In this time, Sue has made the department a more resilient, inclusive and ambitious place, with an expanded remit at the heart of 21st century government.”

Sedwill also paid tribute to Owen, who became perm sec of the then-Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 2013. Since then the department has grown considerably, from around 380 to nearly 1,300 staff after taking on responsibility for telecoms, the Office for Civil Society and digital policy alongside its rebrand in 2017.

The cabinet secretary said Owen had provided “excellent leadership of the department over the last six years”.

“She has been an invaluable member of the civil service and deserves tribute for her commitment to tirelessly working towards the best outcomes of citizens across the country.”

Healey’s appointment followed an internal recruitment competition, according to the government announcement.

"It’s unbelievably important if you are in a high-pressured job to take time away"

In an interview with the Chartered Managers Institute in February 2018, Healey set out some of her key lessons from her career so far as a manager.

The first was on the importance of holidays. “We had four and a half weeks of setting up the department, in which there were seismic changes,” she said of joining DExEU. “And then I had three weeks of holiday booked. I wondered if I could realistically go on that, considering how intense the work was.

“I reflected that it’s unbelievably important if you are in a high-pressured job to take time away from that environment. If you don’t, you lose perspective, and you need the ability to recharge. There aren’t going to be any lulls in Brexit.”

She also set out the importance of staff training in the civil service, highlighting that she had gone through the Major Projects Leadership Academy in 2013 when she was running the rollout of pensions automatic enrolment. “It has been really valuable here in thinking through balanced scorecards and how you use that information to inform your work,” she told the CMI.

“I’ve also been on two civil service talent programmes, one of which was going on when I was doing this job. I found the network and personal support of the people whom I was on the programme with really valuable in addressing difficult or unexpected problems that we’ve had to deal with.”

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