FCO names Sir Simon McDonald as new perm sec

Simon McDonald, UK ambassador to Germany since 2010, to take up post as FCO's most senior official from September

By Matt Foster

29 Jul 2015

Sir Simon McDonald has been named as the next permanent secretary at the Foreign Office.

McDonald, who has served as Britain’s ambassador to Germany since 2010, will replace the outgoing Sir Simon Fraser in September, the FCO announced this morning. His appointment follows a civil service-wide competition to find a successor to Fraser, who retires at the end of this month.

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Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood on Wednesday congratulated the 54-year-old incoming perm sec on his appointment.

“His extensive diplomatic experience, strong policy development and communication skills will enable him to lead the FCO successfully through the policy and financial challenges ahead,” Heywood said.

McDonald's career includes a 2007-10 stint as chief foreign policy adviser to former prime minister Gordon Brown, and time as principal private secretary to former foreign secretary Jack Straw. He has also served in Washington, Tel Aviv and Bonn, according to the FCO.

The incoming perm sec this morning said he was "honoured" to have been handed the post. 

“I have worked for the Diplomatic Service for 33 years and it is a privilege now to lead it,” he said. “My immediate foreign policy priorities are the EU renegotiation, Russia/Ukraine, countering extremism, boosting trade and inward investment and keeping our citizens safe overseas. I look forward to the challenge.”

Foreign secretary Philip Hammond said McDonald's “wealth of experience and commitment to the Foreign Office” would leave him “well placed to lead the organisation through a challenging time internationally”.

McDonald's appointment follows a series of perm sec changes earlier this month, with the Ministry of Justice, the Cabinet Office, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) all coming under new leadership.

"Crown jewel"

McDonald takes the reins at the Foreign Office at what is likely to be a challenging time for the department. Earlier this month, Hammond told MPs that the FCO would aim to protect its network of overseas embassies as it sought to meet the Treasury's call for fresh reductions to its administrative budget at the upcoming spending review.

“I am clear that the crown jewel of the Foreign Office’s capability is the network of international platforms, embassies, and missions around the world,” Hammond told the Foreign Affairs Committee. “We must seek to protect that sharp end presence while addressing the need for further efficiencies.”

The FCO was asked to make a 10% real-terms cut to its resource budget in the 2010 spending review, followed by a further 6.3% reduction in the 2013 round. Chancellor George Osborne also pressed the FCO for a further £20m of in-year spending reductions in the run-up to his July budget.

Fraser, the FCO’s outgoing permanent secretary, recently told the Institute for Government that while the FCO had more to do to "streamline administration, to work smarter, to innovate and to increase flexibility", he believed that much of the “low hanging fruit” of efficiency savings already been removed.

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