I loved my time as Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet
Office. I felt like every day was a privilege to work
there. The Cabinet Office sits at the heart of everything that Her
Majesty's Government does - from running No. 10, advising the PM on
security and global and European issues, co-ordinating Cabinet
policy across Whitehall, being the corporate centre of government,
managing things like Human Resources, IT, procurement, and so on,
managing the Honours process. . . It even has a key role in the
selection of archbishops.
My role was to oversee the management and administration
of all of those functions, in support of the Cabinet
Secretary and head of the Civil Service, and to lead the corporate
side personally for Cabinet Office ministers.
I refused to have an office or a desk, and
enjoyed hot-desking, engaging with different staff as they did
their jobs. I learned so much in the process. I was also
particularly proud of launching the Government Digital Service, to
make the UK the leading government around the world in using the
internet to provide public services centred on the citizen.
I really dislike the constant sniping that goes an about
civil servants, in the media and from some politicians and
special advisers. All the civil servants I worked with over seven
years were wonderfully talented, hard-working, and ethical people,
and we should never forget how lucky we are in this country to have
such an institution, independent of political interference, at the
heart of our democracy.
Tony Blair set up the Delivery Unit in 2001 -
to help him get the things done across Whitehall that he personally
cared about. This was a team of about 40 civil servants who worked
mainly on his priorities for health, education, and home affairs.
It was very successful, and I inherited an extraordinary team from
Sir Michael Barber, who was its founder. One thing was working with
the Department of Health to crack down on MRSA and similar
superbugs, which had been stubbornly on the increase through the
early part of this century.
Working with Tony Blair on a personal level was one of
the best experiences of my life. People have their views
about him, but all I can say is that, on a personal level, he was a
joy to work for: smart, strategic, a good listener, decisive,
charismatic, and with a great sense of humour. He was incredibly
popular with the staff in my team for these personal
characteristics. He is also a man of strong faith.
I've only ever had three employers: Accenture,
the Civil Service, and the Football Association. But underneath the
umbrella of those three, my career has been a series of projects,
usually lasting between two to four years, to tackle seemingly
intractable problems or start something new. I'm that sort of
I'm greatly enjoying helping my wife, Georgina, in her
three-year curacy at two churches in Cheshire. It's given
me the flexibility to take on a number of voluntary roles, from
being a Church Commissioner, chairing a charity, trying to build a
community sports facility in Altrincham, and being on the board of
the Rugby World Cup.
We have four sons, and it has been a good time
to be able to help them with the transitions in their lives: going
to, or leaving university, or, in Duncan's case, being a
professional footballer whilst at university. By the end of 2015,
we should know where Georgina's parish is going to be, and so that
will be a time to consider next options.
I'm a political anorak. But my time in the
Civil Service made me realise I do not belong to any political
party, and I don't like the tribalism of party politics. I'm more
issue-driven. Like many people, I find it increasingly hard to cast
my vote at each election for one party; so I usually fall back on
considering the local candidates' individual merits, and then
trying to add my voice to key issues.
I wasn't approached to become a Church
Commissioner. I saw the advert on Twitter, being an avid
follower of @c_of_e tweets, and applied, because I thought that my
background in national issues could be useful to help get more
resources to support the wonderful work that people like my wife do
at the local level.
I'm four months into a part-time role; so I've much to
learn. Church Commissioners oversee the national
investments that are made to create income for the front-line
parishes, and manage the more complex end of the Church's
buildings, including cathedrals and closed churches.
The Church is rightly concerned with ethical
investing, and investing in things that make a difference
in themselves. The Cabinet Office had responsibility for the policy
area on social finance, and set up the organisation which invests
the cash handed over by the banks from dormant bank accounts, and I
will draw upon this knowledge, too.
Dividing the cake amongst the parishes is not
dissimilar to the way taxpayers' money is handed to universities,
partly driven by formulaic considerations, partly in line with
policy from the centre. I had responsibility for this budget when
in the Civil Service.
Managing an unusual property portfolio, such as
cathedrals and closed churches, is not the same as managing office
blocks or retail parks, but in my time I've been involved in the
management or funding of Jodrell Bank, Wembley Stadium, 10 Downing
Street, and Admiralty Arch - not your everyday properties.
Getting the balance between going for as much income as
possible, with as much ethical investing as possible is
one of the hardest to strike, as we saw over the Wonga publicity
I went to the Football Association rather
unexpectedly. I never seriously thought I would be chosen.
But I ran on an agenda of making the FA generally better
We needed to promote women's football,
encourage opportunities for disabled players, and combat racism,
sexism, and homophobia. The finances of the Premier League needed
managing, and I wanted to divert some of the huge profits of
professional football towards grass-roots football, as well as
finding the next English players to compete in the World Cup.
I had a reasonably successful time on some of
these. But I was blocked on most of the others by vested
interests in the professional game and FIFA. I realised I was
dealing with malign forces that I could never overcome, and that I
was chief executive in name only: there was nothing "chief" or
"executive" about the role. They no longer have a CEO, which is a
recognition of the frustrating time previous CEOs like Adam Crozier
and me spent there.
Is the FA reformable? I have asked myself that
question a lot. Not without a complete revolution. At FIFA we need
total reform towards a modern, transparent, non-corrupt
organisation led by new people, and certainly not by Sepp Blatter.
And we need an FA Board independent of its vested interests.
I grew up in south London, where my father was
a GP, and my sister is still a nurse.My father grew up in
Bermondsey, andmy mother was brought up in a children's home in
Lancashire; so the middle-class existence I grew up in was a far
cry from boththeir childhoods. I suppose that high-quality public
services, and equality of opportunity, have remained driving forces
My favourite sound is undoubtedly the electric
guitar. My family recently bought me one, though my
ambitions are set very low. I confess that my musical tastes remain
locked in the rock era. I recently saw Deep Purple in Manchester,
and have tickets to see Ian Anderson, of Jethro Tull fame,
Georgina has been the most influential person in my life
by some margin. She's an exceptional person on so many
fronts, and she demonstrates these talents on an hourly basis in
Reading Solzhenitsyn in the '70s was very profound for
me. I'd choose to be locked in a church with Solzhenitsyn,
or his fictional character Ivan Denisovich. I would love to know
how someone found the courage to oppose a pervasive system of such
force,with such devastating consequences for themselves or their
loved ones, when there wasa path of least resistance open to them.
It would help me understand better what persecuted people must go
through today in the many faith-intolerant societies around the
world, as they risk so much to go about their everyday worship -
something we take for granted.
Ian Watmore was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
In our interview with Richard Everett (11 April), we omitted
a credit for the photographer, Kate Kennington Steer, and the
website: www.richardeverett.co.uk. Our apologies.