Ian Watmore in line for Whitehall return as First Civil Service Commissioner

Former Cabinet Office perm sec – and one-time Football Association chief exec – set to return as Civil Service Commissioner, subject to approval from MPs

By Suzannah Brecknell

01 Sep 2016

Ian Watmore, former permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office, has been lined up to return to Whitehall as the watchdog overseeing top civil service appointments.

Watmore, understood to be the government's preferred candidate for the role of First Civil Service Commissioner, is set to attend a pre-appointment hearing next week in front of MPs on the Public Adminstration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

If the committee approves his appointment, Watmore would take over from Kathryn Bishop, who has been acting as interim First Civil Service Commissioner since April 2016, when Sir David Normington’s term as Commissioner ended.

Interview: Ian Watmore
"Standing up for the values of the civil service is not just a slogan – it’s absolutely vital" – lunch with former first civil service commissioner Sir David Normington

The Civil Service Commission is an independent body which ensures that civil servants are appointed on merit in open competitions, promotes the Civil Service Code, and hears complaints from civil servants under that code.

The first commissioner is head of the commission, and also chairs recruitment panels for permanent secretary posts.

Watmore, an accountant by background, was permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office from 2011 to 2013, and before that led the coalition’s Efficiency and Reform Group, which was tasked with reducing back-office costs, restricting spending and renegotiating contracts across government.

He has moved in and out of the civil service during his career, having taken up the Cabinet Office job in 2010 after a stint as chief executive of the Football Association. Watmore’s CV also includes four years as managing director of consultancy Andersen (later Accenture), a spell as head of the prime minister’s delivery unit under Tony Blair, and two years as permanent secretary in the then-Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

In 2013 Watmore told CSW he was leaving the civil service to better support his wife in a new job in the north west of England. 

He noted that “for somebody who’s got a business background to come in [to the civil service] and be given the chance to be a permanent secretary in three different roles in three different governments is unbelievably humbling”.

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