A stream of senior civil servants is leaving Whitehall. Are they getting on or just getting out?
“Get out to get on” was the long-time mantra of the former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell. He wanted civil servants to get experience of other sectors – and bring that experience back to the highest echelons of Whitehall.
But the recent tidal wave of senior civil servants leaving Whitehall has raised the question in a more literal sense. Are the recent departees getting on or just getting out? Are they going to the kind of plum jobs that have traditionally attracted former senior public leaders, or simply bolting to any port in a storm?
It’s one thing for senior civil servants, who aren’t having much fun at the moment, to be tempted by dream jobs. The opportunity to move from the Home Office to run a major national voluntary body like the National Trust, as Dame Helen Ghosh has announced she is to do, is a great personal career move.
As Jill Rutter, programme director at the Institute for government and a former senior civil servant, points out, Whitehall women leaders are much in demand and there is probably more freedom and potential personal satisfaction for the chief executive of a major charity than running a central government department.
Sir Suma Chakrabarti’s move in May from the Ministry of Justice to become president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was another example of a good move, and although Mark Thompson, outgoing director general of the BBC, may not be a civil servant, his appointment as president and chief executive of the New York Times Company, at $5m a year, is a move from a publicly-funded body to a private firm that is certainly not to be sniffed at.
But these are the few shining examples. Elsewhere, alarm bells have started to ring about a trail of senior civil servants leaving either with no job in prospect, such as Moira Wallace, who left the Department of Energy and Climate Change suddenly in July, or to join firms that are not bluechip, or, as Alan Mather, a partner at consultancy Rainmaker, who has worked for central government departments, puts it, “names you’ve never heard of”.
In a recent blog, aptly named where did all the big shots go?, Mather notes some of the recent moves of former senior government IT leaders, including former government chief information officer Joe Harley, for instance, who left Whitehall in spring 2012 to join technology firm Amor Group. Harley’s resignation followed the move in November 2011 of the government’s former deputy CIO, Bill McCluggage, to IT firm EMC.
Steve Lamey, the former director general of HM Revenue & Customs, left in July 2012 to become chief operating officer for IT services firm Kelway, while John Collington, the government’s first-ever chief procurement officer, joined talent management company Alexander Mann.
In a completely different kind of career move, which could be seen as a shining example, depending on your viewpoint, Ian Watmore, former permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office and head of the efficiency and reform group, left the civil service in May to support his wife’s work for the church – and to organise the Rugby World Cup in England in 2015.
Meanwhile, we wait, of course, with interest, to see whether O’Donnell himself, tipped to become the next bank of England governor, has got out and got on.