New interim head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service named

Jenny Pyper takes over post on an eight-month agreement as review of process for filling top job on a permanent basis goes on
Photo: Northern Ireland Executive Office

By Richard Johnstone

01 Dec 2020

A new interim head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service has been named following the failure of the recruitment process to find a new permanent chief.

First minister Arlene Foster and deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill have named Jenny Pyper as the interim head, in an engagement that is expected to last eight months.

Pyper spent seven years as the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Authority for Utility Regulation before announcing her decision to step down in February.

She takes on the interim post after Foster and O’Neill were unable to agree a permanent appointment to replace David Sterling following a recruitment process that ran over the summer.

In a joint statement released on Friday, the ministers said: “We are pleased to announce that Jenny Pyper will be the interim head of the civil service.

“She will take up post at a critical time as the executive continues to manage its response to, and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and prepares for the end of the EU exit transition period. This includes addressing immediate health, societal and economic challenges as well as planning for the future and putting us in the best possible place to rebuild our economy, rejuvenate our society and transform our public services.”

Foster and O’Neill highlighted that, as part of the agreement that restarted the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland, they were “committed to significant and ambitious reforms in the development of an outcomes-based programme for government (PfG)”.

They added: “We have every confidence in Jenny’s ability to lead and further reform the civil service and support the development of a PfG that will deliver for our people.

“We have agreed that Jenny will chair a newly-established Covid-19 Taskforce, which will deal with crucial issues such as vaccination rollout, mass testing and compliance.”

Pyper takes up the role today and will be paid £174,417 plus an amount equivalent to usual NICS employer’s pension contribution.

She starts work at a critical time for the NICS, with a series of reforms planned following the recommendations of the inquiry into the “cash-for-ash” scandal that brought extra scrutiny to the conduct of special advisers, ministers and civil servants. They include legislative changes coming into force next year and a new code of conduct for officials. The civil service is also dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and staff shortages that mean there are more vacancies across the Northern Ireland Civil Service than some departments have staff.

Pyper said: “I am delighted and honoured to have the opportunity to lead the NICS and progress delivery of the executive’s priorities. 

“I am aware of how hard staff right across the organisation have worked and adapted in difficult circumstances, especially throughout the Covid response, to maintain delivery of services to people here, in addition to developing new schemes in response to the challenges of the pandemic. I am confident that the resilience and dedication of the workforce will endure through and beyond these unprecedented times.

“I am proud to have been a civil servant for over 28 years and I will do all I can to further develop a high-performing, outcomes-focused and inclusive NICS that supports the institutions of government and makes a real and positive difference in people’s lives.”

The Northern Ireland Executive Office also announced that a review of the current process for filling the position on a permanent basis is being carried out and that a further recruitment campaign will be launched at a date to be fixed.

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