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A Permanent secretary is the most senior civil servant of a British government ministry, charged with running the department on a day-to-day basis.

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, Sir 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 spends money granted by parliament appropriately. 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.[citation needed] Benn was soon moved to the Department of Energy, while Peter 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 Sir 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 secretariesEdit

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][not in citation given]

Permanent secretaries and second permanent secretaries in the UK government
Department Jobholder Title
Departments of State
Cabinet Office Sir Mark Sedwill Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service (also National Security Adviser)
John Manzoni Chief Executive of the Civil Service and Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary
Elizabeth Gardiner First Parliamentary Counsel
Vacant Chair, Joint Intelligence Committee
Oliver Robbins Prime Minister's Europe Adviser
Philip Rycroft Second Permanent Secretary, Head of UK Governance Group (also Permanent Secretary, DExEU)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alex Chisholm Permanent Secretary
Sir Patrick Vallance[2] Government Chief Scientific Adviser
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Melanie Dawes Permanent Secretary
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Dame Sue Owen Permanent Secretary
Ministry of Defence Stephen Lovegrove Permanent Secretary
Michael Bradley Chief Executive, Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S)
Department for Education Jonathan Slater Permanent Secretary
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Clare Moriarty Permanent Secretary
Department for Exiting the European Union Philip Rycroft Permanent Secretary (also Second Permanent Secretary, Head of UK Governance Group in Cabinet Office)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office Sir Simon McDonald Permanent Secretary and Head of Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service
Sir Kim Darroch Her Majesty's Ambassador to Washington
Sir Tim Barrow UK Permanent Representative to the EU
Department of Health and Social Care Sir Chris Wormald Permanent Secretary
Dame Sally Davies Chief Medical Officer for England
Home Office Sir Philip Rutnam Permanent Secretary
Shona Dunn Second Permanent Secretary
Department for International Development Matthew Rycroft Permanent Secretary
Department for International Trade Antonia Romeo Permanent Secretary
Crawford Falconer Second Permanent Secretary and Chief Trade Negotiation Adviser
Ministry of Justice Sir Richard Heaton Permanent Secretary and Clerk of the Crown in Chancery
Department for Transport Bernadette Kelly Permanent Secretary
HM Treasury Sir Tom Scholar Permanent Secretary
Charles Roxburgh Second Permanent Secretary
Martin Clarke Government Actuary
Department for Work and Pensions Peter Schofield Permanent Secretary
Non-Ministerial Departments and Non-Departmental Public Bodies
Crown Prosecution Service Alison Saunders Director of Public Prosecutions
HM Revenue and Customs Sir Jon Thompson First Permanent Secretary and Chief Executive
Jim Harra Deputy Chief Executive and Second Permanent Secretary, Tax Assurance Commissioner
Security Service (MI5) Andrew Parker Director General of the Security Service
Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) Alex Younger Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service
Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) Jeremy Fleming Director of the Government Communications Headquarters
Government Legal Department Jonathan Jones Her Majesty's Procurator General, Treasury Solicitor and Head of the Government Legal Service
UK Statistics Authority John Pullinger National Statistician
Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills Amanda Spielman Her Majesty's Chief Inspector
Devolved Administrations
Northern Ireland Executive David Sterling Permanent Secretary and Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service
Scottish Government Leslie Evans Permanent Secretary
Welsh Government Dame Shan Morgan Permanent Secretary

Outside the UKEdit

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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 equivalence are the administrative vice-ministers.

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, starting in 2000 when the Public Service Leadership scheme was introduced. This is to provide opportunities for younger officers from the Administrative Service — the elite arm of the Civil Service — to rise up the ranks.

In Sri Lanka, the post of permanent secretary is the civil service head of the ministry. Normally referred to as secretary, non civil service, political appointees are regularly appointed.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Civil Service. "Permanent Secretaries across the Civil Service". Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  2. ^ "Appointment of Dr Patrick Vallance as government Chief Scientific Adviser". UK Government. 8 November 2017. Retrieved 7 September 2018.

External linksEdit