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August 7, 2014

Will the Government replace outgoing chief operating officer?

Stephen Kelly was the first Whitehall COO. He may be the last.

By Joe Curtis

The Government may not replace its departing chief operating officer, after top-level staff applauded his work helping Whitehall’s digital transformation projects.

Stephen Kelly announced his resignation from his COO role in the Cabinet Office yesterday, preparing to move to business software firm Sage in November as group chief executive.

But CBR understands Whitehall may not replace Kelly, despite him winning plaudits from colleagues Mike Bracken and Francis Maude over the course of his two-year tenure in the role, of which he was the first incumbent.

A source told CBR the decision will rest with the new chief executive of the civil service, a position that will not be filled until November.

The £200,000-salaried job is a new one for Government, and sees the public sector echoing the private sector with a competitive salary to task someone with cost cutting and what the Cabinet Office calls "transformational change".

Meanwhile, think tank Institute for Government has spoken out against the role, claiming "the appointment is being rushed".

Director Peter Riddell said: "There is only a fortnight between the closing date for applications and final interviews, and the proposed start is only six weeks later – a far more compressed timetable than would be normal for a senior corporate leader in the private sector."

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With a mandate of driving reform across Whitehall departments, perhaps the Cabinet Office fears some crossover with a COO role, which so far has seen Kelly drive cost cuttings of £14.3bn over 2013/14 through digital transformation.

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