Sedwill retaining national security adviser role as cab sec 'to help make success of Brexit'

Civil service chief says combining the jobs is part of fusion agenda to boost teamwork across government


By Richard Johnstone

15 Feb 2019

Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Sir Mark Sedwill has said his retention of the role of national security advisor since becoming cabinet secretary is part of moves to make a success of Brexit.

In an interview with Civil Service Quarterly, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service also said retaining the post would also ensure “a genuine sense of teamwork across and beyond government”.

Sedwill was named national security adviser in February 2017. He remainged in post on his appointment as cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, initially on an acting basis, from the late Sir Jeremy Heywood in June last year.


The role of national security advisor was only separated from that of cabinet secretary in 2010, and Sedwill told Civil Service Quarterly that many of his predecessors had held the role as well as being cab sec and head of the civil service.

“I describe myself as the cabinet secretary, and then set out the shape of the job as I’m doing it. That shape has varied over time. Some of my predecessors, like Gus O’Donnell, for example, were Cabinet Office permanent secretary as well as cabinet secretary and head of the [civil] service.

“Most were responsible for national security. The formal role of national security adviser is a relatively recent innovation. The job developed during my time in it, balancing the traditional foreign policy and international affairs concerns with the defence and homeland security issues, operating alongside the cabinet secretary.”

Retaining the national security role was key to what Sedwill has called the Fusion Doctrine in government – the means of “deploying the full set of our national security, economic and influence capabilities... against the full set of our national security, economic and influence goals”.

He told CSQ: “The reason I’m doing it this way is to make a success of Brexit. It’s critically important that we bring together – fusion, as we call it in the national security community – all our national capabilities, including economic, security, social and the rest, with a genuine sense of teamwork across and beyond government.

“While leadership is about identifying the big ideas, it’s also about building a great team. I am strengthening the team around me in the cabinet secretariats, ensuring that they operate as a real team, rather than in specialist silos.”

The Fusion Doctrine

Speaking to the Defence Select Committee in May last year, Sedwill described the Fusion Doctrine as a means of ensuring the UK is “deploying the full set of our national security, economic and influence capabilities... against the full set of our national security, economic and influence goals”.

For government, this means the creation of some new structures and roles to support the National Security Council with both strategy and delivery. For example, there are now implementation groups headed by senior responsible owners for each of the NSC’s priorities.

The doctrine also sets out government’s plans to link economic and national security goals, as well as ensuring that all of the nation’s capabilities (not just those controlled by government) are being coordinated to protect national security.

Speaking to CSW, Sedwill reflected that the doctrine has grown from government’s response to the Chilcot report, and is designed to ensure there is not only proper rigour and process when strategy is set and decisions are made, but that there are effective mechanisms to deliver those decisions using all of government’s capabilities as well as its “catalytic” ability to get other partners involved in reaching strategic aims.

Read more

Also in the interview, Sedwill said that he wanted to continue his predecessor Heywood’s focus on building ‘A Brilliant Civil Service’, both as a programme and a brand.

“It gives us an important sense of direction,” he said. “We need brilliant people, brilliant technology, brilliant systems. It’s a constant effort to upgrade those, and ensure people can fulfil their potential and have the tools they need.

“Second, in my first message to civil servants I spoke about impact and teamwork. We must stay focused on our impact on the lives of individual citizens and the prosperity and security of the country. And by teamwork I don’t just mean people working in teams within the civil service, but across the whole public service and beyond, building effective partnerships with the private and third sectors – and, of course, with the citizen.

“It’s this systems modernisation that I want to bring to this role, building on the effective modernisation and capability upgrading we saw under my predecessors, from commercial, digital and data capability, to the diversity and inclusion agenda, which we absolutely must see through. My task is to add that systems capability, that teamwork, across the whole public service and beyond. And that’s to help the government navigate the country through Brexit and, more importantly, in a way, to make a success of it.”

In the 2017 Civil Service Peoples Survey, less than half of those polled (43%) were aware of the flagship Whitehall vision to create a Brilliant Civil Service, although this increased to just over half (51%) in 2018.

Read the CSQ interview in full here

Read the most recent articles written by Richard Johnstone - Building the future: Steven Boyd on making government property work for the civil service

Share this page