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Sir Ian Cheshire tipped for Whitehall post

The former boss of B&Q's parent company is being lined up to take a key role in Whitehall as ministers prepare for a swingeing new round of public spending cuts.

Sky News has learnt that Sir Ian Cheshire, who stepped down as chief executive of Kingfisher earlier this month, is among a small number of candidates to succeed the former BP boss Lord Browne as the Government's lead non-executive director.

The appointment of Sir Ian has yet to be finalised, although he is understood to be the preferred choice of a number of key Whitehall decision-makers and could be announced as soon as next month.

The role has assumed growing significance since being established in 2010 as part of an attempt by the Conservative-led Coalition to improve governance across Government departments.

Upon his appointment as the lead non-executive director at the Department for Work and Pensions in January 2011, Sir Ian said:

“The opportunity to support the Department in delivering its ambitious programme of reform is one I welcome.

"I believe that Government and business should be working together and sharing experience and expertise and I am pleased to be playing my part in this approach.”

The appointment of Sir Ian as Lord Browne's successor is understood to be subject to cross-party approval given the proximity of next May's General Election.

Labour sources said they were not opposed to the continuing involvement of business leaders as non-executive directors of Government departments.

A Whitehall insider said that other candidates for the lead non-executive role may also be in contention.

Among those recruited by ministers in 2010 were Rona Fairhead, now chair of the BBC Trust; Sam Laidlaw, the outgoing chief executive of Centrica; and Sir Andrew Witty, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline.

The appointment of business leaders to the boards of Government departments has received a mixed reaction, with Lord Browne himself acknowledging in an interview with the Financial Times that the initiative had had a "mixed report card".

Sir Ian, who has had a successful career in the retail sector, will remain as a director of Kingfisher until next month, and he has been linked with the chairmanship of Tesco.

He was also approached earlier this year about becoming chief executive of the Civil Service, but turned down the role, which was eventually filled by John Manzoni, a former BP executive.

Lord Browne said last month: "Francis Maude has demonstrated determined commitment to Civil Service Reform and, under his leadership Whitehall has been transformed for the better.

"There is much more to do, but it is now time for a new perspective on that process."

Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, said the Civil Service had "made real progress in addressing long-standing weaknesses in commercial, digital and project-management skills and strengthening departmental governance, management information and talent management".

The Cabinet Office declined to comment on the appointment of Lord Brown's replacement, saying that an announcement would be made in due course.

Source : Mark Kleinman - Sky news

23 December 2014

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