Sir Jeremy Heywood – a perfect manifestation of everything that has gone so very wrong with the British civil service

Career Path of Sir Jeremy John Heywood

Sir Jeremy John Heywood, KCB, CVO (born 31 December 1961) is a senior British civil servant who has been the Cabinet Secretary since 1 January 2012, and Head of the Home Civil Service since September 2014. He previously served twice as the Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, as well as the Downing Street Chief of Staff and the first and only Downing Street Permanent Secretary.

Heywood was educated at Bootham School, an independent school with a Quaker background and ethos in York, before taking a BA in History and Economics at Hertford College, Oxford and an MSc in Economics from the London School of Economics. He also studied for a semester at Harvard Business School, (management development 1994) then worked for a time with the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC.

His first job in the civil service was as an Economic Adviser to the Health and Safety Executive after which he transferred to HM Treasury in 1992 and became the Principal Private Secretary to Chancellor Norman Lamont at the age of 30, having to help mitigate the fallout from Black Wednesday after less than a month in the job. Sterling was in crisis and Norman Lamont was forced to announce a humiliating withdrawal from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. That drama helped forge an early bond between Heywood and Lamont’s young adviser at the time, one David Cameron.

When Tony Blair took power in 1997, he brought in new appointments, such as his chief of staff Jonathan Powell. Yet Heywood, who became Principal Private Secretary to Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1999, still made himself indispensable in a crisis such as 9/11. Powell recalls Heywood’s, “preternatural calm”. While many top politicians have found Heywood a reassuring presence, his reputation among his civil service colleagues has not always been so positive.

In September 2002 the infamous, “Dodgy Dossier” was released by the UK Government which became the justification for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Sir Jeremy Heywood was Principal Private Secretary to Tony Blair appointed in 1999. The dossier was flawed and made false allegations about the existence of WMD and nuclear programs in Iraq. Sir John Scarlett was chair of JIC, the Joint Intelligence Committee and he wrote to Tony Blair’s foreign affairs adviser David Manning about, “the benefit of obscuring the fact that in terms of WMD Iraq is not that exceptional”. In other words the dossier was misleading about Iraq’s capabilities. Sir Richard Dearlove, as ‘C’ Head of MI6 said he was misquoted in the, “Downing Street Memo” of a meeting about Iraq on 23 July 2002 saying it was, ” a misquotation of what I said, and what I said is not in the public record.” With so much confusion it is at least clear that the UK had been mobilized by the USA to justify George Bush’s desire to hit Saddam Hussein. Sir John Scarlett’s role in the Iraq affair emerged as being pro-US.

Sir Jeremy Heywood’s role as Blair’s private secretary in conducting government business was questioned. His critics accused him of being complicit in the culture of, “sofa government” in Blair’s Downing Street, citing evidence given to the Hutton Inquiry into the death, (murder or suicide) of Dr David Kelly that some of the key meetings between politicians and officials were not minuted during that period, a job he was required to do. He subsequently left the civil service in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry.

His years out of Whitehall as a banker between 2004 and 2007 also drew him into controversy. In 2006, he was a senior executive at bankers Morgan Stanley when it advised on the flotation of the, “Southern Cross” care homes provider. Although he did not work directly on the deal, he was the ultimate boss of the team which ran the float. Sir Jeremy, 50, was accused by the GMB union of being, “up to his neck” in the disaster which saw 31,000 elderly people put at risk of being made ­ homeless. The firm’s 750 homes were later rescued in a new deal.

When Gordon Brown became Prime Minister in 2007, Heywood returned to government as Head of Domestic Policy and Strategy at the Cabinet Office. Political commentator Peter Oborne, in the wake of this appointment described Heywood as, “a perfect manifestation of everything that has gone so very wrong with the British civil service over the past 15 years.” He went on to resume his old job of Principal Private Secretary, as well as being appointed the Downing Street Chief of Staff after the resignation of Stephen Carter.

In 2010, after David Cameron became Prime Minister, Heywood returned to the civil service. On 11 October 2011 it was announced that he would replace Sir Gus O’Donnell as the Cabinet Secretary, (The Cabinet Secretary is the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister’s most senior policy adviser and acts as Secretary to the Cabinet, responsible to all ministers for the running of Cabinet Government he is the highest-ranked official in the British Civil Service), upon the latter’s retirement in January 2012. It was also announced that Heywood would not concurrently hold the roles of Head of the Home Civil Service and Permanent Secretary for the Cabinet Office, as would usually be the case. These positions instead went to Sir Bob Kerslake and Ian Watmore respectively. On 1 January 2012, Heywood was knighted and officially made Cabinet Secretary. In July 2014 it was announced that Kerslake would step down and Heywood would take the title of Head of the Home Civil Service . Heywood was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 2008, before being made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 2012 New Year Honours. The Parliamentary Public Administration Committee cited the example of Heywood’s knighthood as an automatic honour granted due to his position and not for exceptional service.

As Head of the Civil Service Heywood leads nearly half a million public servants who work in public institutions, administer tax, benefits and pensions systems and put government policy into practice. The civil service is a permanent, politically impartial workforce that serves the government of the day, while retaining the flexibility to serve future governments. Currently civil servants are supporting the government’s economic and public service reform. The scale of the challenges and persistent weaknesses require a reform plan that applies right across the civil service. The Head of the Civil Service is one of several senior civil servants accountable for the reform of the civil service through the Civil Service Board. But all is not well in the civil service. David Cameron in a recent speech, described civil servants as, “enemies of enterprise”. “There were suggestions that Jeremy Heywood may himself have been one of the instigators of the speech”, says film-maker and veteran Whitehall watcher Michael Cockerell.

Heywood has been involved in painful civil service changes – such as Treasury budget-cutting and job losses and there are those who claim he is too close to the politicians. “There may be some sense in the civil service,” said Michael Cockerell, “that Jeremy Heywood has lent too far towards pleasing his political masters”. Nick Pearce, who worked closely with Heywood under the last Labour government, expressed both admiration and anxiety: “For somebody like me who believes in decentralising and dispersing power… you don’t want one person to have so much power and influence, but I’m pleased it’s him”. He added a quip, “If we had a written constitution in this country, it would have to say something like, ‘Not withstanding the fact that Jeremy Heywood will always be at the centre of power, we are free and equal citizens’. That is the extent of his power.”

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