Permanent Secretary

Permanent Secretary

The Permanent Secretary, in most departments officially titled the Permanent Under-Secretary of State (although the full title is rarely used), is the most senior civil servant of a British Government ministry, charged with running the department on a day-to-day basis. The permanent secretary (known by other names in some departments; see below) is the non-political civil service head (and "accounting officer") or chief executive of a government department, as distinct from the political Secretary of State, to whom they report and whom they advise.

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.

Some larger departments also have a Second Permanent Secretary who acts as deputy. In the early 1970s, there was a major reorganisation of Whitehall and many smaller Ministries were amalgamated into larger Departments. Following this reorganisation, virtually all Departments had Second Permanent Secretaries. However, this is no longer the case.

The overall head of the civil service is the Cabinet Secretary, currently Sir Gus O'Donnell. The holder of this office is distinct from other people of permanent secretary rank within the Cabinet Office.

By tradition, Permanent Secretaries are usually created a Knight or Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath at some point after their appointment 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

There are currently 25 individuals in UK government departments with the grade of Permanent Secretary and 15 with the grade of Second Permanent Secretary. However, not all have these titles. In addition, one Executive Agency has a Permanent Secretary, Jobcentre Plus.

The following departments are headed by officials who actually hold the title of Permanent Secretary:
* Cabinet Office (also has others of Permanent Secretary rank advising the Prime Minister)
* Her Majesty's Treasury (also has a Second Permanent Secretary)

* Ministry of Justice (also has a Second Permanent Secretary)
* Department for Culture, Media and Sport
* Ministry of Defence (also has a Second Permanent Secretary)
* Department for Communities and Local Government
* Department for Children, Schools and Families
* Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills
* Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
* Foreign and Commonwealth Office
** Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
* Department of Health
* Home Office
* Department for International Development
* Scottish Government
* Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
* Department for Transport
* Welsh Assembly Government
* Department for Work and Pensions
* Jobcentre Plus

The following departments are headed by individuals on the same grade who hold different titles:
* Government Communications Headquarters
* Office for National Statistics
* Parliamentary Counsel Office
* Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs
* Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)
* Security Service (MI5)
* Treasury Solicitor's Department
* UK Trade and Investment

The following departments of the Northern Ireland Executive are also headed by Permanent Secretaries:

* Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
* Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
* Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
* Department of Education
* Department for Employment and Learning
* Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment
* Department of the Environment
* Department of Finance and Personnel (also has a Second Permanent Secretary)
* Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
* Department for Regional Development
* Department for Social Development

Outside the UK

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.

Other Commonwealth or Westminister-style governments may also have officials holding the title of, or equivalent to, Permanent Secretary. In Canada, the position is Deputy Minister.

In Australia the position is called the Secretary of the Department, or Director-General of the Department in some states and territories.

In Hong Kong, heads of policy bureaux, i.e. 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 Hua 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 as according to the payscale.

In some countries of the Commonwealth the popular term for the equivalent position is now Principal Secretary.

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

In New Zealand the civil service head of a ministry is ordinarily titled the Chief Executive, though in some cases (such as the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service) the title is Director-General. Organisations with enforcement powers, such as the Inland Revenue Department, the New Zealand Police, and the New Zealand Customs Service are headed by commissioners. Civil service heads are officially employed by the State Services Commission, further separating them from the politicians who hold ministerial positions.


* 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. Indeed, it was during Barrow's occupancy of the post that it was renamed "Permanent" Secretary".
* The most famous (albeit fictional) Permanent Secretary is probably Sir Humphrey Appleby of the BBC TV series "Yes Minister".

See also

* Cabinet Secretary
* British Civil Service

External links

* [ List of current UK Permanent Secretaries]

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