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Whitehall appoints civil service COO to replace John Manzoni

Former CMA chief executive Alex Chisholm also takes on the roles of COO and permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office

The government has appointed Alex Chisholm as the replacement for the outgoing chief executive of the civil service, with a remit that includes supporting the response to the coronavirus pandemic as well as driving reform and efficiency programmes.

Chisholm is also taking on the role of permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, leading 7,000 staff who work across the Cabinet Office and its arm’s length bodies. He is currently serving as permanent secretary at the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and was previously chief executive of the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA).

He replaces John Manzoni, who had been serving as chief executive for the civil service with a focus on driving digital transformation across Whitehall for the past five years, and who declared his departure in January 2020.

Announcing the new appointment, senior Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove praised Manzoni’s work, saying it has led to “significant savings for the public purse and improved performance”.

In the Cabinet Office announcement about the new appointment, it is noted that Manzoni’s departure “has been long-planned”, but the executive has agreed to stay to support the government in dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, Mark Sedwill, also acknowledged Manzoni’s accomplishments around modernisation in areas such as improving digital and commercial capability, which, Sedwill said, “has been a significant contribution to effective government”.

Manzoni had been chief executive of the civil service since October 2014, and added the post of Cabinet Office permanent secretary in August 2015. He was due to step down last year, but his tenure was extended in autumn to ensure continuity for the following months.

On the new incumbent, Sedwill noted that Chisholm will lead the ongoing transformation of the civil service “to further enhance its efficiency, effectiveness and agility, creating the high-performance, innovative and digitally powered service”.

Chisholm will be expected to support ministers to develop then implement a reform programme for the civil service, building on the existing efficiency initiatives, as well as supervise all the Cabinet Office in areas such as preparing for the end of the transition period for the UK’s exit from the European Union.

In addition to executive control of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the wider digital transformation of Whitehall, the Crown Commercial Service, and cross-government shared services and civil service reform, Chisholm’s list of tasks is likely to include the recruitment of the new government chief digital information officer, which has yet to be completed six months after it was announced. However, his work in the medium term will be focused on the coronavirus response.

“The present emergency is a powerful reminder of how important the work of government is to the whole country,” Chisholm said.

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