Whitehall’s longest-serving female permanent secretary, Dame Melanie Dawes, will leave the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to become chief executive of Ofcom early next month, the regulator has confirmed.
This morning’s appointment coincides with the announcement that Ofcom, which regulates broadcasting and telecoms in the UK, is set to gain new powers to regulate social media.
It will get new powers to force social networks to remove content promoting violence, terrorism, child abuse and cyber-bullying, as companies sign up to a “duty of care” towards users.
Ofcom said today that culture secretary Baroness Nicky Morgan had approved the appointment, confirming reports late last year that Dawes had been tipped to lead the watchdog.
Dawes said it was a “great privilege to be appointed as chief executive at a time of significant change in the sectors Ofcom regulates”.
The proposed changes to Ofcom’s remit were announced today in the government’s initial response to a consultation it has run on the Online Harms White Paper – which promised to tackle "illegal and unacceptable content" and "make companies more responsible for their users’ safety online, especially children and other vulnerable groups".
Dawes succeeds Sharon White, a former Treasury second permanent secretary and No.10 Policy Unit adviser, who left in November to head up the John Lewis Partnership.
The group’s director for competition, Jonathan Oxley, has been interim chief exec since White stepped down.
Dawes began her civil service career in 1989 with a two-year stint at the Department for Transport. She then spent 15 years at the Treasury, latterly as Europe director, before moving to HM Revenue and Customs.
She then spent four years as director general of the domestic affairs secretariat at the Cabinet Office before taking on the top job at MHCLG in 2015.
She has also been civil service diversity and inclusion champion since last April.
In her five years as perm sec, Dawes has overseen her department’s rebrand from the communities department, DCLG, to its current iteration as the housing ministry. In that time it has also undergone a significant expansion in staffing, with its headcount growing by more than 700 last year.
Under her leadership, MHCLG has led the government’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people in 2017, and the subsequent response to safety concerns. Last month the department published the planned arrangements for a new building safety regulator it is setting up as part of the response to the tragedy.
CSW has asked MHCLG to comment on its plans for the perm sec role.
Further perm sec role changes could be on the horizon, as the prime minister is expected to announce a cabinet reshuffle, accompanied by machinery of government changes, in the coming days.
Clare Moriarty lost her post as head of the Department for Exiting the European Union when it closed at the end of January, and the Cabinet Office has confirmed its perm sec, civil service chief executive Sir John Manzoni, will step down later this year.