The appointment of Susan Thomas as Director of Corporate Services with a seat on the Department for Education and Employment Board reveals that new thinking is starting to affect Whitehall. Although there have been outside appointments to top civil service posts in the past few months, such as the new chairman of Customs and Excise, this is probably the first appointment of a changemaster who is adept at the art of leading change. Her role in the new job is to drive forward the modernisation of DfEE and her appointment marks the next stage in the Department’s change management programme. She joins the Department with a track record of managing change in the Transition Team which set up the Greater London Authority, and in modernising Local Government in Lewisham.It has become clear from recent pronouncements and this appointment that the civil service has now joined other areas of the public sector in valuing people who are adept at leading change. Changemasters are still fairly thin on the ground in the public sector compared to the world of business and commerce, but it is becoming a career specialism and a fast track to the top.
Another unusual aspect of the appointment is her background in local government. Despite the thrust to join up public services, there is little interchange between people in central and local government. The appointment decision may have been influenced by the Head of the Department who is the only Permanent Secretary to have been chief executive of a local authority.