This report discusses how permanent secretaries are and should be appointed. It focuses in particular on the role of ministers in the process – debate on which was sparked by the Government’s Civil Service Reform Plan. We argue that secretaries of state should be able to select their permanent secretary from a shortlist from the independent Civil Service Commission, with all candidates bound by the civil service code and its requirement for political impartiality. Ministers should then be held accountable for their choices, including by Parliament.

We also argue for other reforms to strengthen the system – including a stronger performance management system for permanent secretaries, with clear objectives set at the time of appointment linked to the challenges faced by the department, and regular assessment of performance with input from ministers and others. And we call for greater transparency around the use of ‘managed moves’, by which appointments are made in Whitehall without any formal process or competition.

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