Leadership changes at Home Office & DfT as Mark Sedwill named Theresa May's top security adviser

Home Office perm sec on the move, with DfT chief Philip Rutnam taking the reins at Marsham Street

By Matt Foster

27 Feb 2017

Theresa May has brought in one of her most trusted officials from her time as home secretary to serve in the UK's top national security job, marking the latest senior move from Marsham Street to Downing Street and prompting leadership changes in two Whitehall departments.

Mark Sedwill, the current permanent secretary of the Home Office who has been in post at May's old department since 2013, was today named as the prime minister's next National Security Adviser, succeeding Sir Mark Lyall Grant, who is retiring on April 13.

Sedwill – whose civil service career has also seen him serve in a number of high-profile Foreign Office jobs, including as private secretary to both Robin Cook and Jack Straw, and as deputy director of the FCO's Middle East and North Africa Department – will chair the National Security Council, and serve as May's chief source of advice on national security.

Interview: Department for Transport perm sec Philip Rutnam on civil service disability support – and getting Network Rail back on track
Home Office perm sec Mark Sedwill on Theresa May's move to Number 10 and making a success of Brexit

Unveiling the appointment, May paid tribute to Lyall Grant – who was appointed by her predecessor David Cameron in 2015 – for his "huge contribution", and said Sedwill was " ideally qualified to take up the critically important role".

"As well as his recent time in the Home Office, he has served in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and has wide-ranging experience of foreign and security policy issues," she said.

May added: "I would like to thank Mark Sedwill for his distinguished tenure as permanent secretary of the Home Office. 

"He has worked hard to achieve our mission to cut crime, prevent terrorism, control immigration and protect the vulnerable. His dedicated public service has helped keep our citizens safe and our country secure. I know he will continue that mission in his new role."

The Cabinet Office meanwhile announced that Sedwill's role at the Home Office will be filled by the current Department for Transport permanent secretary Philip Rutnam, who has led the DfT since 2012. A hunt for Rutnam's successor as DfT chief is now underway, with the department's director general for resources and strategy, Jonathan Moor, stepping up in the interim.

May said Rutnam would bring "a wealth of leadership and delivery experience, including working on major projects and addressing the long term needs of the UK".

The decision to appoint Sedwill marks the latest in a series of big-name moves from the Home Office, where May served as home secretary for six years, to the heart of government.

May's joint chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, were previously the prime minister's special advisers at the department, while Peter Storr, who serves as May's top Number 10 adviser on Europe, is a former head of the Home Office's immigration policy group.

Other key former Home Office staff now in Downing Street include Will Tanner, a former Home Office policy adviser who is now deputy chief of the Number 10 policy unit, and John Godfrey, May's deputy chief of staff, a former Home Office spad.

May also opted to appoint Olly Robbins, Sedwill's former deputy at the Home Office, as permanent secretary of the new Department for Exiting the European Union, beefing up his previous role under Cameron as head of the Cabinet Office Brexit team.

Speaking to CSW last year, Sedwill – who also serves as chair of the civil service lifeboat fund –  said he tried to “stay sane” in his high-pressure Home Office job by being “absolutely ruthless” about striking a work-life balance.

“Of course, if something really significant happens I would expect to be disturbed and I would respond. But one of the things we have to learn, particularly in a high-pressure environment, is not to allow the everyday pressures to dominate our entire lives," he said.

“You’ve got to be able to switch off, you’ve got to create space for yourself. And you know, I believe in being absolutely in the moment you’re in. So when I’m with the family, I’m with the family. When I’m walking the dog, I’m walking the dog. And I don’t expect to be disturbed unless something really serious is there to interrupt that.”

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