The search is finally over. I’ve heard that Ursula Brennan will be promoted to become the most senior civilian official at the Ministry of Defence — taking over what is arguably the most rum job in Whitehall.
It is always good to see more women at the top of the civil service, which is still far too dominated by men. Brennan has shown herself to be a dab hand as deputy permanent secretary at the MoD, keeping a cool head in what can be a maddening institution to work in.
There will also be some relief that there is a degree of continuity at the top of the MoD. After all, as well as Brennan’s appointment as permanent secretary, there is a relatively new government, a new chief of defence staff, and a new head of procurement (which still hasn’t been announced in spite of a six month search).
But those wanting to see new blood brought in to this infamously dysfunctional department will be a touch disappointed. There was talk at one stage of even parachuting in Jeremy Heywood, the tireless Downing Street permanent secretary, so the MoD budget and management would be sorted out once and for all. But the big guns of Whitehall clearly know that few emerge from running the MoD with their reputations enhanced.
That said, Brennan is no defence insider. She joined the department in 2008 from the Ministry of Justice, where she had led the review into the break-up of the old Home Office. Her past responsibilities include protection of wildlife at the environment department and running welfare to work and anti-benefit fraud programmes at the department for work and pensions.
Her in-tray will include implementing the big cuts expected in the defence review, managing relations with the restless service chiefs, and overseeing a massive overhaul of the MoD, which will probably cut staffing levels by up to a quarter. We should all wish her luck. She will need it.