Gus O'Donnell, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service

Gus O'Donnell Gus O'Donnell has three roles as Cabinet Secretary, head of the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office. He talks about these roles here and also a little bit about his background and career so far.

Last updated - 29th January 2009

My role

I have three roles:

  • Cabinet Secretary
    I have overall responsibility for ensuring that the Civil Service provides effective and efficient support to the Prime Minister and the Government. This involves building close relationships with the Prime Minister in particular and the Cabinet.

  • Head of the Civil Service
    I am accountable for ensuring that the Civil Service is equipped with the skills and capability to meet the challenges it faces everyday and that civil servants work in a fair and decent environment.

    There are half a million civil servants and the vast majority work outside London. That is why I spend a lot of time travelling around the UK visiting Civil Servants to hear about the jobs they are doing any barriers they might face to carry out their roles.

    I chair the Permanent Secretary Management Group and the Civil Service Steering Board which are the main governing bodies of the Civil Service.

  • Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office
    I am also Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office whose overarching purpose is 'making government work better'. The staff in Downing Street are also part of the Cabinet Office. The aims of the Cabinet Office are to support the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and strengthen the Civil Service. One example of this is that we are the lead department charged with ensuring that the most socially excluded adults are offered the chance to get back on a path to a successful life. This is typical of Cabinet Office work as it requires us to work across Government departments and in partnership with local authorities and the private, charitable and voluntary sectors.

My background

I went to a state school in Battersea and then studied economics at the University of Warwick and Nuffield College, Oxford. I had four highly enjoyable years lecturing in economics at the University of Glasgow before joining the Government Economic Service in 1979. I started my Civil Service career at the Treasury but have also worked as a diplomat in the Embassy in Washington and as Press Secretary to the Chancellor and Prime Minister (1990 - 94). I have also represented the UK on the boards of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. I became Cabinet Secretary in summer 2005 having been Permanent Secretary to the Treasury before that.

I hope my career shows that specialists can do well in the Civil Service and that we offer a variety of career paths

Career highlight

I am really proud to have been on the team that did the 5-tests assessment of whether we should join the Euro. It is a good example of evidence-based policy. But my proudest moment was presenting the prize for the first ever Civil Servant of the Year to Sorwar Ahmed from the Pension Service. His commitment and professionalism reminded me of why I am proud to be Head of the Civil Service and remain passionate about our role in making Government work better for all our citizens.

Looking forward

I want to make the Civil Service respected throughout the country for our honesty and integrity coupled with our ability to deliver services effectively and efficiently. This means building a professional, diverse and flexible Civil Service that meets the needs of our increasingly diverse society.

Gus O’Donnell’s visits

Gus O'Donnell visits departments across the UK to meet civil servants at work. You can find out more about these visits by visiting the Civil Service news section.