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Government fails in first attempt to hire chief security officer

The government’s initial recruitment campaign for the UK’s "biggest and most important security job” has been unsuccessful, Cabinet Office admits

The government’s recruitment campaign for a chief security officer, whose responsibilities include cyber security as well as leading the secret Foxhound IT programme, has been unsuccessful.

The government began recruiting for the £150,000-a-year role in May 2018. It was billed as the “biggest and most important security job in the UK”, by civil service boss John Manzoni, but has so far failed to fill the position.

The government is looking for a candidate with experience of operating and leading information and physical security strategy, as well as delivering and defining policy, but has not found the right candidate.

Answering a parliamentary question from junior shadow Cabinet Office minister Jo Platt, implementation minister Oliver Dowden admitted that recruitment has been difficult.  

“The original recruitment campaign for the role of government chief security officer was unsuccessful,” he said.

Now, instead of recruiting for a permanent role, the government is trying to fill the position temporarily.

“The Cabinet Office is now seeking a two year fixed term candidate for this role and this recruitment exercise is underway. Following this, a full recruitment exercise will be undertaken to fill this post permanently,” said Dowden.

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The government’s chief security officer will be responsible for implementing and driving the Transforming Government Security Programme, and for “protecting government’s people and information” from several threats, including cyber crime and terrorism, according to the original job ad.

Manzoni said the chief security officer would be “the functional leader responsible for driving the capability to protect Government’s people, information and assets from a wide range of threats”.

The officer would also be responsible for the Foxhound IT programme, which aims to deliver confidential network to allow the sharing of classified information across government. However, according to a Public Accounts Committee report, the project has suffered from poor planning, is three years late and not on track to deliver its anticipated benefits. 

The chief security officer role was originally created in 2016, and was held on a temporary basis by civil servant Campbell McCafferty until the government was ready to recruit for a permanent position.

Commenting on the unsuccessful recruitment campaign, Jo Platt said the role is “critical for our national security and requires the stability and dedication of a permanent, long-term appointment”.

“It is shocking that the government are scrambling around to find a temporary fix after failing to recruit the right person, despite having two years to do so,” she said.

Recruiting a deputy director of security

In addition to the recruitment of a chief security officer, the government is also recruiting a deputy director of security for the Government Digital Service (GDS). The £100,000-a-year role will involve working as an advisor to the chief security officer and GDS director Kevin Cunnington “on security issues and remediation relating to GDS’s services and operations”.  

The government has also been working to find a new chief data officer for Whitehall, after Paul Maltby left the role in 2016. 

In its ambitious transformation strategy, published in February 2017, the then Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer highlighted the importance of an impending appointment of a chief data officer.  

“It will be the first time we have one person responsible for data in government, which will have a transformational effect on the way we are gathering and deploying data and big data across government,” he said.

However, despite making it a key goal in its strategy, the government has yet to fill the role.

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