NICS hires top consultant as Sue Gray’s successor

EY’s chief economist in Ireland is lined up as Department of Finance perm sec
Neil Gibson. Photo: EY

By Jim Dunton

14 Feb 2022

The Northern Ireland Civil Service has appointed private sector economist and academic Neil Gibson as permanent secretary of the Department of Finance, almost a year after Sue Gray left the role to return to Whitehall.

Gibson is chief Ireland economist for “big four” consultancy EY and visiting professor of economic policy at Ulster University. He has an unusually high-profile role for a civil servant, regularly offering commentary on economics.

Colum Boyle has served as interim perm sec at the finance department since Gray’s departure last April, when she was appointed as second perm sec at the Cabinet Office. Boyle has been selected as successor to Tracy Meharg, who is currently perm sec at Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities.

At the time she left the DoF, Gray was open about her disappointment at not being selected as head of NICS in the failed first recruitment drive to find a successor David Sterling, who retired in 2020. She questioned whether she may have been seen as “too much of a disrupter” for the top job.

Her Partygate investigation into alleged rule-breaking gatherings in Downing Street has only served to bolster her reputation as one of Whitehall’s most powerful officials in the months that  have followed.

Tech expert and former venture capitalist Jayne Brady was hired as NICS head – or HOCS – last summer, after a second round of recruitment.

A NICS statement on the latest appointments said start dates for both Gibson and Boyle had yet to be agreed.

It added that the recruitment exercise for the finance department role had been launched in late October and that Gibson’s salary scale was £124,282-£141,866.

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