Permanent Secretary
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Permanent Secretary

A permanent secretary is the most senior civil servant of a ministry in the United Kingdom, charged with running the department on a day-to-day basis. Similar offices, often employing different terms, exist in many other Westminster-style systems and in some other governments.

Permanent secretaries (known by other names in some departments; see below) are the non-political civil service heads (and "accounting officers") or chief executives of government departments, who generally hold their position for a number of years (thus "permanent") at a ministry as distinct from the changing political secretaries of state to whom they report and provide advice.


When Lord Grey took office as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1830, John Barrow was especially requested to continue serving as Secretary in his department (the Admiralty), starting the principle that senior civil servants stay in office on change of government and serve in a non-partisan manner. It was during Barrow's occupancy of the post that it was renamed permanent secretary.


Permanent secretaries are the accounting officers for departments, meaning that they are answerable to parliament for ensuring that the department appropriately spends money granted by parliament. Permanent secretaries are thus frequently called for questioning by the Public Accounts Committee and select committees of the House of Commons. The permanent secretary usually chairs a department's management board which consists of executive members (other civil servants in the department) and non-executive directors. In the 1960s the permanent secretary to Tony Benn when he was Secretary of State for Industry was Peter Carey. After Benn spent government money on worker cooperatives, notably a motorbike company (Meriden Motorcycle Co-operative), Carey went before the Public Accounts Committee and expressed the opinion that his minister's expenditure had been ultra vires.[] Benn was soon moved to the Department of Energy, while Carey received a knighthood in the following honours list.

Some larger departments also have a second permanent secretary who acts as deputy. In the early 1970s, in a major reorganisation of Whitehall, many smaller ministries were amalgamated into larger departments. Following this reorganisation, virtually all departments had second permanent secretaries for a time, though this is no longer as common.

The most senior civil servant is the Cabinet Secretary, currently Mark Sedwill; he is also the Head of the Home Civil Service. The holder of this office is distinct from other officials of permanent secretary rank within the Cabinet Office. By convention, the Prime Minister is Minister for the Civil Service and as such makes regulations regarding the service and has authority over it. These duties are delegated to the Minister for the Cabinet Office.


Permanent secretaries are usually created a Knight or Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath after five or more years of service in the grade or on retirement if not already holding the title (although the Permanent Secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be created a Knight or Dame Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George instead). The most senior permanent secretaries, such as the Secretary of the Cabinet, may be created a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, and even be given a life peerage after retirement. For salary comparison purposes, the permanent secretary is deemed broadly equivalent to a general and to a High Court judge.

Current UK permanent secretaries

Below are the individuals in UK government departments with the grade of permanent secretary or second permanent secretary, though not all use these titles.[1][failed verification]

Permanent secretaries and second permanent secretaries in the UK government
Department Jobholder Title
Departments of State
Cabinet Office Mark Sedwill[2] Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service
National Security Adviser
John Manzoni[3] Chief Executive of the Civil Service and Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary
Elizabeth Gardiner[4] First Parliamentary Counsel
Simon Gass[5] Chair, Joint Intelligence Committee
David Frost Prime Minister's Europe Adviser & Chief Negotiator for EU Exit
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alex Chisholm[6] Permanent Secretary
Patrick Vallance[7] Government Chief Scientific Adviser
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Melanie Dawes[8] Permanent Secretary
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sarah Healey[9] Permanent Secretary
Ministry of Defence Stephen Lovegrove[10] Permanent Secretary
Simon Bollom[11] Chief Executive, Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S)
Department for Education Jonathan Slater[12] Permanent Secretary
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Tamara Finkelstein[13] Permanent Secretary
Foreign and Commonwealth Office Simon McDonald[14] Permanent Secretary and Head of Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service
Tim Barrow[15] Her Majesty's Ambassador to the European Union
Department of Health and Social Care Chris Wormald[16] Permanent Secretary
Chris Whitty[17] Chief Medical Officer for England
Home Office Philip Rutnam[2] Permanent Secretary
Shona Dunn[18] Second Permanent Secretary
Department for International Development Matthew Rycroft[19] Permanent Secretary
Department for International Trade Antonia Romeo[20] Permanent Secretary
Crawford Falconer[21] Second Permanent Secretary and Chief Trade Negotiation Adviser
Ministry of Justice Richard Heaton[22] Permanent Secretary and Clerk of the Crown in Chancery
Department for Transport Bernadette Kelly[23] Permanent Secretary
HM Treasury Tom Scholar[24] Permanent Secretary
Charles Roxburgh[25] Second Permanent Secretary
Martin Clarke[26] Government Actuary
Department for Work and Pensions Peter Schofield[27] Permanent Secretary
Non-Ministerial Departments and Non-Departmental Public Bodies
National Crime Agency Lynne Owens[28] Director-General of the National Crime Agency
Crown Prosecution Service Max Hill[29] Director of Public Prosecutions
HM Revenue and Customs Jim Harra[30] First Permanent Secretary and Chief Executive
Vacant Deputy Chief Executive and Second Permanent Secretary, Tax Assurance Commissioner
Security Service (MI5) Andrew Parker[31] Director General of the Security Service
Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) Alex Younger[32] Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service
Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) Jeremy Fleming[33] Director of the Government Communications Headquarters
Government Legal Department Jonathan Jones[34] Her Majesty's Procurator General, Treasury Solicitor and Head of the Government Legal Service
UK Statistics Authority John Pullinger[35] National Statistician
Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills Amanda Spielman[36] Her Majesty's Chief Inspector
Devolved Administrations
Northern Ireland Executive David Sterling[37] Permanent Secretary and Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service
Scottish Government Leslie Evans[38] Permanent Secretary
Welsh Government Shan Morgan[39] Permanent Secretary

In the Commonwealth

In some countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, the popular term for the equivalent position is now "principal secretary".[]


In Australia, the position is called the "departmental secretary", "secretary of the department", or "director-general of the department" in some states and territories.


In Canada, the position is a "deputy minister", as the political head of a department/ministry is generally called a minister.


In India, the equivalent position is called secretary to the Government of India and is the highest ranking permanent civil servant in a department.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, heads of policy bureaux, secretaries, were filled by civil servants until their titles were changed to permanent secretaries in 2002, when political appointees filled the positions of secretaries under the second Tung Chee Hwa government. Since August 2005, the Office of the Chief Executive also has a permanent secretary. His ranking is, however, lower than most other permanent secretaries according to the pay scale.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, the civil service head of a ministry is ordinarily entitled "chief executive", though there are still some positions which still carry the title of secretary (Secretary of Education, Secretary of Justice, Secretary of Transport). In some cases (such as the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, Ministry for Primary Industries, Department of Conservation, Ministry of Health) the title is "director-general". Organisations with enforcement powers, such as the Inland Revenue Department and the New Zealand Police, are headed by commissioners. The New Zealand Customs Service is headed by the Comptroller of Customs. Civil service heads are officially employed by the State Services Commission, further separating them from the politicians who hold ministerial positions.


In Singapore, permanent secretaries have to retire after a 10-year term even if they are younger than the official retirement age of 62. This was introduced in 2000 as part of the Public Service Leadership scheme, to provide opportunities for younger officers from the Administrative Service -- the elite arm of the Civil Service -- to rise up the ranks.

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, a permanent secretary is the administrative head of a ministry and is appointed by the President of Sri Lanka. Traditionally if the appointee is a serving member a public service, he or she would leave the service for the duration they would hold the appointment. Following Ceylon's independence from Britain in 1948, permanent secretaries were commonly appointed from the Ceylon Civil Service, with a few exceptions such as the permanent secretary to the ministry of justice which would be an officer of the judicial service. In the recent past it has been common for permanent secretaries to be appointed from outside the public service, with some on political grounds at the discretion of the president on the advice of the minister in charge.[40]

Outside the Commonwealth

In Germany, the equivalent office is called Staatssekretär (state secretary).

In Italy, the highest civil service official in a ministry or department is either a segretario generale (secretary-general) or a direttore generale (director-general), while the position of sottosegretario di stato (under-secretary of state) is a political one and ranks below the ministro segretario di stato (minister-secretary of state, the head of a ministry or department) or the vice ministro (deputy-minister), both political posts as well.

The Japanese equivalents are the administrative vice-ministers.

In the Republic of Ireland, the position of "secretary-general" of a department is almost identical to that of a permanent secretary in the British civil service, with the exception that since the introduction in the mid-1990s of the Strategic Management Initiative, the post is no longer permanent, but carries a seven-year time limit. This coincided with the introduction of the change of title from the previous title of "secretary". Irish government departments may also have a "second secretary", which is equivalent to the Second Permanent Secretary grade in the British civil service. See also Civil service of the Republic of Ireland.

See also


  1. ^ Civil Service. "Permanent Secretaries across the Civil Service". Archived from the original on 2013-07-22. Retrieved .
  2. ^ a b "Cabinet office: new senior appointments and changes". GOV.UK. 2017-02-27. Retrieved .
  3. ^ "New Permanent Secretary for Cabinet Office announced: John Manzoni". GOV.UK. 2015-07-02. Retrieved .
  4. ^ "First Parliamentary Counsel appointed: Elizabeth Gardiner". GOV.UK. 2015-11-20. Retrieved .
  5. ^ "Joint Intelligence Committee Chair appointed: Sir Simon Gass". GOV.UK. 2019-06-18. Retrieved .
  6. ^ "New Permanent Secretary for the Department of Energy and Climate Change". GOV.UK. 2016-05-10. Retrieved .
  7. ^ "Appointment of Dr Patrick Vallance as government Chief Scientific Adviser". UK Government. 8 November 2017. Retrieved 2018.
  8. ^ "New Permanent Secretary for the Department for Communities and Local Government". GOV.UK. 2015-01-08. Retrieved .
  9. ^ "Appointment of new Permanent Secretary at DCMS". GOV.UK. 2019-03-11. Retrieved .
  10. ^ "New Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Defence". GOV.UK. 2016-03-09. Retrieved .
  11. ^ "Sir Simon Bollom appointed Chief Executive of Defence Equipment and Support". GOV.UK. 2018-04-27. Retrieved .
  12. ^ "New Permanent Secretary for the Department for Education". GOV.UK. 2016-04-20. Retrieved .
  13. ^ "Appointment of new Permanent Secretary at Defra". GOV.UK. 2019-06-19. Retrieved .
  14. ^ "Appointment of new Permanent Under Secretary to the FCO". GOV.UK. 2015-07-29. Retrieved .
  15. ^ "Sir Tim Barrow appointed as UK Permanent Representative to the EU". GOV.UK. 2017-01-04. Retrieved .
  16. ^ "New Permanent Secretary for the Department of Health". GOV.UK. 2016-01-15. Retrieved .
  17. ^ "New chief medical officer appointed". GOV.UK. 2019-06-07. Retrieved .
  18. ^ "Appointment of Shona Dunn as Second Permanent Secretary at the Home Office". GOV.UK. 2018-07-25. Retrieved .
  19. ^ "Appointment of Matthew Rycroft as Permanent Secretary at the Department for International Development". GOV.UK. 2017-09-29. Retrieved .
  20. ^ "New Permanent Secretary for the Department for International Trade". GOV.UK. 2017-01-10. Retrieved .
  21. ^ "DIT appoints Crawford Falconer as new Chief Trade Negotiation Adviser". GOV.UK. 2017-06-16. Retrieved .
  22. ^ Bavister, G. A. (8 September 2015). "Warrants Under the Royal Sign Manual". The London Gazette. HM Government. Retrieved 2015. The Queen has been pleased by Royal Warrant bearing date 1 September 2015 to appoint Richard Nicholas Heaton, Esquire, CB to the Office of Clerk of the Crown in Chancery.
  23. ^ "New Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport". GOV.UK. 2017-04-18. Retrieved .
  24. ^ "New Permanent Secretary to the Treasury announced". GOV.UK. 2016-03-11. Retrieved .
  25. ^ "New Second Permanent Secretary to the Treasury appointed". GOV.UK. 2016-07-04. Retrieved .
  26. ^ "Martin Clarke announced as new Government Actuary". GOV.UK. 2014-03-05. Retrieved .
  27. ^ "Appointment of Peter Schofield as Permanent Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions". GOV.UK. 2018-01-12. Retrieved .
  28. ^ "Director General (NCA): Lynne Owens CBE QPM MA - National Crime Agency".
  29. ^ "Max Hill QC joins the CPS as Director of Public Prosecutions". GOV.UK. 2018-11-01. Retrieved .
  30. ^ "Jim Harra takes top job at HMRC | Accountancy Daily". Retrieved .
  31. ^ "Appointment of the new Director General of the Security Service". GOV.UK. 2013-03-28. Retrieved .
  32. ^ "Appointment of the new Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)". GOV.UK. 2014-10-03. Retrieved .
  33. ^ "Foreign Secretary appoints new GCHQ Director". GOV.UK. 2017-03-20. Retrieved .
  34. ^ Hall, Kathleen (2014-02-21). "Jonathan Jones appointed Treasury solicitor". Law Gazette. Retrieved .
  35. ^ "Meet John Pullinger: The UK's new national statistician". CityAM. 2014-05-12. Retrieved .
  36. ^ "Letter from Nicky Morgan: appointment of Amanda Spielman as HMCI". GOV.UK. 2016-07-07. Retrieved .
  37. ^ "New head of NI Civil Service appointed". BBC News. 2017-06-14. Retrieved .
  38. ^ Johnson, Simon (2015-05-21). "Nicola Sturgeon selects new Scottish civil service chief". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved .
  39. ^ "New top Welsh civil servant is named". BBC News. 2016-11-09. Retrieved .
  40. ^ De Silva, Leelananda. "The Machinery of Administration Under Parliamentary Government". Island. Retrieved 2019.

External links

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