Private-sector honcho John Manzoni takes helm of Civil Service

03 October 2014 -


Former oil boss slots into newly created role in efforts to make Whitehall more skilled and efficient

Jermaine Haughton

Our Civil Service is under new management, following the hiring of big-industry mover John Manzoni as its chief executive. His appointment follows the July sacking of former head Sir Bob Kerslake – a controversial decision that was accompanied by the creation of the chief exec post. As the role’s first occupant, Manzoni will work closely with Kerslake’s replacement Sir Jeremy Heywood. In parallel, Heywood will serve as Cabinet Secretary.

Starting this month, former BP executive Manzoni will oversee the administrative and commercial performance of government departments, after eight months of serving as head of the government’s Major Projects Authority. His move is particularly significant, as it points to a change of tactics from the Civil Service. Indeed, Manzoni is best known for his work in, and experience of, the private sector.

In fact, Manzoni controlled around half of BP’s global operations before becoming CEO of Talisman Energy, which has been criticised for its fracking projects in the US. This a marked change from previous boss Sir Bob, who came from a pure-play local government and public sector background – including a CEO position at the London Borough of Hounslow.

Could it be that the Civil Service is no longer confident in leadership figures from its own talent pool, and needs an industrialist to ring the changes? And is the Civil Service hoping that Manzoni can make the system run more efficiently, in the style of a private company?

The ousting of Kerslake certainly suggested a change of management philosophy, with the Whitehall chief departing amid a hectic government reshuffle. Tensions towards Kerslake within the organisation are believed to have played a part in his departure, and several press reports related details of fractious relations with key government figures – most significantly Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.

In a special Civil Service blog about his new role, Manzoni set some targets for his tenure:

“First, and most important,” he wrote, “it is about us as civil servants. We need to deepen and increase our skill base in specific areas of delivery, including commercial, digital and leadership. Several professions exist within government today – we need to continue strengthening those and build some new ones quickly to offer coherent paths for young people to build their careers and experience. And we need to ensure those skills are deployed at the heart of our everyday business.”

He explained: “We need to ensure that every talented, committed and hard-working person has the opportunity to rise to the top, whatever their background and whoever they are. We must find ways to ensure that every individual is challenged to perform at their best, and supported and rewarded in line with their contribution. We must continue to clarify accountabilities, especially around delivery, and provide the best help and support to those who are accountable, including preparing them properly for their roles. We need to find areas where we can work across government to drive efficiencies to meet the future challenges. Technology is an obvious example, and there are others.”

Alongside Manzoni’s appointment, the Civil Service published a new report on the progress of its reforms – suggesting that, by April 2015, most senior Civil Service posts below the level of permanent secretary will be open to external candidates.

It also recommended that, by mid-2016, the completion of a leadership course at a recognised business school would be required for senior civil servants who wish to apply for permanent secretary posts.

For more thoughts on Essential Management Skills, check out the details on this forthcoming CMI seminar, set to take place on 1 January 2015.

Image of John Manzoni courtesy of the Civil Service.

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