Changes at the top: a new senior structure for the Welsh Government

Published 06/07/2022   |   Last Updated 06/07/2022   |   Reading Time minutes

The Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee recently took evidence from the Welsh Government Permanent Secretary, Dr Andrew Goodall, about his plans for the organisation and changes to the senior leadership structure. The Permanent Secretary is the most senior civil servant in the Welsh Government, and this was his second appearance before the Committee since his appointment last year.

This article provides an introduction to the Welsh Government organisation and the role of the Permanent Secretary, and an overview of the changes.

The Welsh Government civil service

The Welsh Government is formally made up of the First Minister, the Welsh Ministers and the Counsel General. Under the Government of Wales Act 2006, it is the Welsh Ministers that exercise the powers and functions of the Welsh Government.

The Welsh Government Civil Service is the organisation that serves the Welsh Ministers. It has about 5500 permanent and 400 temporary staff. Welsh Government staff are part of the UK Civil Service and subject to the Civil Service Code.

While the UK Government sets the salary range for the Senior Civil Service, the  Welsh Government sets the pay and conditions for most of its staff (at grade 6 and below). The Permanent Secretary has delegated responsibility from the First Minister for this, along with other personnel functions.

The Permanent Secretary

The Permanent Secretary acts as:

  • the head of the Welsh Government Civil Service and chair of the Welsh Government Board;
  • the principal accounting officer of the Welsh Government, responsible for the financial management of over £20 billion in annual funding and demonstrating value for money; and
  • the principal policy advisor to the First Minister and Cabinet, attending Cabinet in support of the First Minister.

There are different routes by which the Permanent Secretary may be appointed.

In practice, the First Minister has made recent appointments to the post of Permanent Secretary, with the agreement of the Cabinet Secretary as the Head of the Civil Service and under the overall authority of the Prime Minister. The Civil Service Commission regulates the appointment process to ensure competition is fair and open. 

Previously Director General Health and Social Services and NHS Wales Chief Executive, Dr Andrew Goodall was announced as the new Permanent Secretary in September 2021. The appointment is for a five-year term.

A new senior structure

The Permanent Secretary leads the Welsh Government Civil Service with the support of a team of directors general.

In March 2022, the Welsh Government Permanent Secretary wrote to the Senedd’s Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee to set out changes to the senior structure of the Welsh Government. The changes came into effect the next day. A new organisation chart was published on 6 May.

In the letter to the Committee, the Permanent Secretary said he hoped the restructure would “allow the Welsh Government civil service to provide more direct support at a very senior level for Ministerial portfolios and Programme for Government delivery”.

The new structure changes the functions of directors general and increases their number from four to six, including a new Chief Operating Officer. The role of Director General for Covid Recovery and Local Government is temporary, and expected to end in 2023. Each director general will lead a Welsh Government group or department.

This is the latest in a series of senior restructures of the Welsh Government in recent years, and brings the numbers of directors general up to the highest level since 2015.

The Committee asked the Permanent Secretary about the financial implications of the new director general structure. He said that, because the Covid Recovery and Local Government Director General role is temporary, he expected the only extra cost to relate to the chief operating officer post. This new role was advertised with a salary of c. £120,000.

Previous Welsh Government restructures

  • Before 2015, the Permanent Secretary led a team of six directors general, with each heading a department within government.
  • In 2015, the then Permanent Secretary Sir Derek Jones replaced this departmental structure with four groups, led by him, two deputy permanent secretaries, and one director general. Sir Derek said that this was “more economical, provide[d] clearer direction and enable[d] more collaborative working on Government priorities”.
  • In 2018, Dame Shan Morgan introduced a five-group structure creating groups led by her and four directors general and removing the title of deputy permanent secretary. The extra director general role was initially intended to be a temporary post to manage the impact of Brexit.

The senior level restructure follows an increase of £19.7m (or almost 10%) in the budget line for staff costs in the Welsh Government’s Second Supplementary Budget for 2021-22. This additional funding was used to recruit around an extra 20 senior civil servants at deputy director level, among other things.

Aligning directorates and ministerial portfolios

The new structure aligns director general roles with ministerial portfolios. By contrast, in the previous Welsh Government senior structure, there was no formal alignment between director general roles and ministerial portfolios.

The Permanent Secretary has said that each director general would now be expected to support three ministers at most. Under the previous structure, the former Director General for Economy, Skills and Natural Resources had supported “seven or eight” ministers. Dr Goodall said he hoped the restructure would enable the civil service to “deliver a more balanced set of responsibilities for Directors-General”, and so support resilience and wellbeing.

The Committee asked Dr Goodall about how the new structure would maintain focus on cross-government priorities. The Permanent Secretary said this was a key principle of the new structure and that he had asked the Welsh Government Board to keep this under review.

A new Chief Operating Officer

In a significant change to responsibilities at the top of the Welsh Government, the new senior structure introduces a chief operating officer role. The Chief Operating Officer will be responsible for providing leadership to directorates including people and places, finance, and digital and analytical services. An appointment to the post was announced on 1 June.

The Permanent Secretary will continue to lead the Welsh Government as a whole. He will also head the Permanent Secretary’s Group, including the Office for the First Minister, the Welsh Government-Plaid Cymru Cooperation Agreement Unit, and propriety and ethics.

The creation of the chief operating officer role had been an ambition of the First Minister since at least the start of the Sixth Senedd. In May 2021, he told the Senedd that appointing a chief operating officer would allow the Permanent Secretary to ”help make the Programme of the Government succeed”.

Next steps

The Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee will continue its oversight of the administration of the Welsh Government and consider how these recent senior staffing changes work in practice. You can find out more about the work of the Committee and its approach to scrutinising public administration on the Senedd website.

Article by Lucy Valsamidis, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament