The Department for Exiting the European Union has insisted that it has no plans to appoint a lead non-executive director as part of its board, even though it advertised for the role in the months following the department's 2016 creation.
DExEU is not the only department to lack a lead non-exec director, according to the Cabinet Office’s latest update on Whitehall’s NED count, but it is the only one to describe itself as having “no lead” rather than a vacant post.
The introduction of non-execs into Whitehall dates back to the 1990s, but the role was pushed as a way to introduce private sector ideas and challenge into Whitehall by coalition-era Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.
Last month the annual report of government lead non-exec Sir Ian Cheshire contained a list of profiles detailing individual projects NEDs had championed in different departments in the 2017-18 financial year.
According to the latest Cabinet Office figures, there are 88 NEDs in central departments. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has the most at seven; HM Treasury has the fewest with just one.
The Treasury and the Scotland Office are the only two departments that currently describe their lead NED post as “vacant”. DExEU describes itself as having “no lead”.
In the weeks following its July 2016 creation, the Brexit department advertised for three NEDs – one of them provisionally expected to be a lead, and offered up to £20,000 a year in return for “approximately 15-20” days of work.
In April 2017 it appointed former British Gas Residential Services managing director Susan Hooper and former KPMG partner Margaret Stephens as its NEDs. Stephens is also chair of DExEU’s audit and risk assurance committee.
The department told Civil Service World that it had taken the decision not to appoint a lead NED at that time, in conjunction with the Cabinet Office, and that it had no plans to appoint a lead NED.
“DExEU has two non-executive directors with equal oversight and input over departmental decisions,” a spokesperson said.
“Both also have an equal voice in central government discussions with other lead non-executive board members. This approach reflects the department’s unique priorities and size and works well with our governance model.”
Last week the Cabinet Office announced the appointment of three new non-execs, bringing its NED count to six.
The new arrivals are former Post Office chief exec and Whitbread group commercial director Paula Vennells; former WPP country manager for the UK and civil service diversity adviser Karen Blackett; and entrepreneur and former Goldman Sachs MD Anand Aithal.