Chisholm named civil service chief operating officer to lead new reform drive

BEIS perm sec will move to become Cabinet Office perm sec as he takes on roles held by John Manzoni

Photo: Photoshot

By Richard Johnstone

30 Mar 2020

Alex Chisholm, the permanent secretary of the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, is to move to the Cabinet Office to lead a new reform programme for the civil service.

Chisholm will move to the central department to take over the responsibilities of outgoing perm sec and civil service chief executive Sir John Manzoni, who will leave later this year.

The appointment has been made by Sir Mark Sedwill, with the agreement of prime minister Boris Johnson, with Sedwill saying that he has asked Chisholm to “lead the ongoing transformation of the civil service to further enhance its efficiency, effectiveness and agility, creating the high performance, innovative and digitally powered service we need for the times we are in”.


In a statement welcoming Chisholm to the role, Sedwill said: “He will also bring proven leadership skills to help guide and support the 7,000 talented staff who work across the Cabinet Office and its arm’s-length bodies.”

In his comments welcoming Chisholm’s appointment, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove highlighting that in the medium term “much of Alex’s work will necessarily be coronavirus response related”, but he indicated that Whitehall reform would be among the other priorities.

“But Alex will be responsible for supporting ministers to develop and then drive forward a reform programme for the civil service, building on the government’s existing efficiency programme. He will also supervise all the Cabinet Office’s various work programmes including on preparing for the end of the transition period [for leaving the European Union, due to end in December], strengthening the union, and defending our democracy.”

Chisholm has been perm sec in BEIS since the department was created in September 2016, and had also been the head of the Department for Energy and Climate Change before its closure, and he had also been chief executive of the Competition & Markets Authority from 2013 to 2016.

Chisholm said he was “truly thrilled to be asked to lead the Cabinet Office and civil service reform at this time”.

The present coronavirus emergency was a “powerful reminder of how important the work of government is to the whole country”, he added.

“I look forward to working with ministers, colleagues in the Cabinet Office, permanent secretaries across government and public service leaders, to deliver for the government and the public together.”

Manzoni’s departure was confirmed earlier this year. The exact date of his departure has not yet been confirmed, as he has agreed to stay on to support the government’s response to coronavirus over the next few months. Manzoni’s title was chief executive of the civil service, but Chisholm has been named COO.

Sedwill said that he wanted to place on record his “sincere thanks and appreciation for all that my colleague Sir John Manzoni has accomplished over the last five years in the role”.

His leadership on civil service modernisation, in particular embedding our functional approach and improving our digital and commercial capability, has been “a significant contribution to effective government”, the cab sec said. “I wish him well in the next phase of his career.”

Gove also thanked Manzoni for his service since becoming civil service chief in 2014. “Over the last few years, the cross-departmental functional governance programme has become embedded as part of Whitehall’s machinery, leading to significant savings for the public purse and improved performance,” he said. “I wish Sir John all the very best for the future.”

Manzoni wished Chisholm “every success in his new roles”.

He added: “He will benefit from the fact – as I have done – that the civil service is truly world-class, with brilliantly talented people at every level of the organisation.

"It has been a privilege to work alongside so many of them in the Cabinet Office and beyond. Civil servants do extraordinary things every day to serve and support their fellow citizens. We are seeing this demonstrated more than ever as we manage the coronavirus pandemic.”

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