The Northern Ireland Civil Service has appointed a female to its top post on a permanent basis for the first time, while Denis McMahon will now lead the Executive Office, following a move to split the role of the Head of the Civil Service.
Jayne Brady is the first Head of the Civil Service (HOCS) to be appointed on a permanent basis from outside of the civil service and is expected to take up post before the end of 2021.
Brady, who most recently served as the Digital Innovation Commissioner with Belfast City Council, will take over the HOCS role from Jenny Pyper, who was appointed on an interim basis on 1 December 2020.
Pyper, a former Chief Executive of the Utility Regulator, was initially appointed on a term of eight months but remains in post, with a start date for her successor yet to be announced.
Brady’s appointment was announced following an external HOCS recruitment competition, which was advertised in March 2021, is part of a commitment under the New Decade, New Approach to reform the Northern Ireland Civil Service.
Several factors, not least the RHI inquiry and a report from the Audit Office on capacity and capability of the NICS, had pushed the need for a transformation programme into the spotlight. Pyper, upon her appointment, was tasked with leading cultural, management and operational changes through a corporate programme of NICS modernisation.
One of the first major steps of this progress was a review of the HOCS role, driven by a failure of the then First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill to agree an appointment in September 2020.
Following the review, a decision was taken to split the role of HOCS with the civil service head overseeing the corporate, strategic and Executive priorities, while a new Permanent Secretary for the Executive Office will be the accounting officer, as with all other departments. The new TEO Permanent Secretary will also lead on NICS reform and Executive Office policy.
Brady is an engineer by trade and recent roles include partner in a venture capital firm and as co-founder of an artificial intelligence (AI) start-up.
As part of her most recent role at Belfast City Council, Brady chaired the digital pillar of the Belfast Region City Deal, a one billion pound investment program and was recently appointed to the UK Government’s innovation expert group. She is also an entrepreneurial expert for the Said Business School at Oxford University.
Former Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Permanent Secretary Denis McMahon has been in post as the Permanent Secretary to the Executive Office since 26 July 2021. McMahon is a long-term public servant and began his career as a statistician. Since then, he has led a £5 billion investment programme in the Department of Health, the reorganisation of the Health and Social Care Services and a £200 million per annum investment programme in the Department of Education. He was also Principal Private Secretary to former First Minister Ian Paisley. Prior to the DAERA posting, he was Deputy Secretary for Work and Inclusion in the Department for Communities with responsibility for welfare reform. Anothony Harbinson has been announced as the Permanent Secretary at DAERA.