Defra seeks perm sec with understanding of EU rules and relationship with Ireland

Job spec states that the candidate will be required to lead the shift from a policy department to a greater operational focus

Photo: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

By Richard Johnstone

21 May 2019

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would like its next permanent secretary to have international experience, including knowledge of what it called “the special case of the island of Ireland”.

A job advert that revealed the extent to which Brexit would change the work of the department said Defra's next chief will need to “respond to the outcome of EU exit negotiations, ensuring that the department and its people are equipped to operate differently as required”.

The job pack said a key part of the role, which will have a salary in the range of £162,500 to £180,000, will be overseeing the department’s “transition from a predominantly policy department to one which has a much greater operational focus”. As a result of Brexit, the department will be responsible for designing and implementing the UK’s replacement for the Common Agricultural Policy, as well as implementing the government’s 25-year environment plan.


The pack, put together for Defra by headhunting firm Odgers Berndtson, sets out that the successor to Clare Moriarty, who left to head up the Department for Exiting the European Union, will need to provide strong leadership to the department to ensure it delivers its "business as usual" activities while also preparing for it post-Brexit priorities.

In leading the move to a more operational focus in the department, the successful candidate will need to demonstrate six essential criteria: the ability to secure ministers' confidence; a sharp intellect, combined with a deep understanding of organisational design and delivery; exceptional communication skills and high personal impact; a track record of working with others to deliver common goals and objectives; being a confident, inclusive and compassionate leader; and enthusiasm for Defra’s agenda and a strong commitment to departmental values.

Two additional criteria are desired: the ability to engage with scientific experts and issues as well as international experience. This is defined as an understanding “with respect to the EU regulations and the special case of the island of Ireland”.

In a foreword to the recruitment document, cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said he was “looking for a dynamic and inclusive leader who will inspire people, and create a culture for effective collaboration and teamwork across the department and its 33 agencies and public bodies – as well as the rest of government, and the private and third sectors to create and deliver policies with real impact for our citizens”.

The panel to choose the next perm sec will be chaired by Ian Watmore, the first civil service commissioner, and will include John Manzoni, the civil service chief executive, Henry Dimbleby, Defra’s lead non-executive director; and Dame Sue Owen, the recently-retired former permanent secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Applications will close on 5 June, with final interviews planned for 11 July.

Moriarty left Defra at the end of March to head up DExEU, replacing Philip Rycroft. Tamara Finkelstein, who was Defra’s lead on Defra’s EU exit preparations, is now its acting perm sec.

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