‘The ultimate public servant’: Civil service heavyweights pay tribute to the Queen

Former cabinet secretaries, perm secs and unions mark passing of nation’s longest-serving monarch
Queen Elizabeth II wearing the Coronation dress in the Throne room at Buckingham Palace in 1953. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

By Jim Dunton

09 Sep 2022

Civil service leaders past and present, and unions representing current and former staff, have paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, following her death at the age of 96.

Lord Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary to prime ministers Sir Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, stressed the monarch’s commitment to a lifetime of public service, “whether it be long or short”: a pledge she made on her 21st birthday and highly visibly kept.

O’Donnell described the Queen as “the ultimate public servant”. He noted she was “working until the end”, a reference to her audience with new prime minister Liz Truss at Balmoral on Tuesday.

“I will remember her as a champion of public service and a great influence on numerous prime ministers,” O’Donnell said.

The former cab sec’s words were echoed by Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union – which represents leaders in the civil service and the wider public sector.

“The nation has lost a dedicated public servant and a family has lost a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother,” he wrote on Twitter, following the announcement of the Queen’s death. “Our thoughts are with them at this time.”

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said the organisation was deeply saddened by the news of the Queen’s death,  officially announced at 6.30pm last night – hours after an unprecedentedly stark statement from Buckingham Palace flagging concerns for her health.

“Her lifetime of public service has been an inspiration to people in the UK and across the world,” Clancy said. “Our thoughts are with members of the Royal Family.”

The nation’s ‘greatest diplomat’

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office permanent under secretary Sir Philip Barton described the Queen as the nation’s “greatest diplomat”.

“The death of Her Majesty The Queen is a moment of profound grief and loss. Her exceptional dedication and international standing made her our greatest diplomat,” he wrote, expressing condolences to the royal family on behalf of the FCDO and diplomatic service.

Lord Mark Sedwill, immediate predecessor to current cab sec Simon Case, paid a particularly personal tribute.

“So very sad. And grateful,” he wrote on Twitter.  “What an extraordinary life of service. God bless Her. And God Save The King.”

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs perm sec Tamara Finkelstein shared a statement first tweeted by new environment secretary Ranil Jayawardena. It said the Queen’s life had been shaped by faith and dedication to public service that earned her the “affection, respect and admiration of generation after generation”.

“At the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we share in Her Majesty’s passion for the great British countryside and her love of animals,” the statement said. “Even at this time, it is right that we celebrate her devotion to this nation, and in doing so, dedicate ourselves anew to honouring her extraordinary legacy in the months and years ahead.”

A statement from PCS , the civil service’s biggest union,  offered its condolences to the Royal Family.

Former Foreign Office perm sec Lord Simon McDonald tweeted a sketch of the Queen and Paddington Bear, drawn by artist Eleanor Tomilnson. The artwork was inspired by the CGI meeting between the monarch and the children’s character created as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June.

The image shared by McDonald contained the caption: “Don’t be frightened Ma’am... the world will be holding your hand.”


Read the most recent articles written by Jim Dunton - Government's 'fiscal rules' arent working and must be reformed, IfG warns


Share this page