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Stormont chief leaves for new role to unite UK

Top civil servant on way to London with job of strengthening the Union


Moving on: Sue Gray will work in the heart of Whitehall

Moving on: Sue Gray will work in the heart of Whitehall

Moving on: Sue Gray will work in the heart of Whitehall

One of Stormont's top civil servants is departing to lead the UK Government's efforts to strengthen the Union.

Department of Finance permanent secretary Sue Gray will become the Cabinet Office's second permanent secretary, leading on the Union and the constitution.

She had recently applied to become head of the Civil Service here, but none of the candidates for that job was appointed.

Mrs Gray previously worked in the Cabinet Office, and served as the director general (propriety and ethics) from 2012-2018.

During that time she gained a reputation as one of the most influential civil servants in the UK.

She joined the Department of Finance in May 2018 after the collapse of the Assembly in January of the previous year.

Mrs Gray said she was "chuffed" to be appointed to the new role and would remain "fully engaged with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales".

"Big challenges ahead and I am ready to get started," she said.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said: "She has been a fantastic permanent secretary who has made an immense contribution, not only within the Department of Finance but across the wider Civil Service."

UUP leader Steve Aiken said he was sorry to see her go.

"The Cabinet Office's gain is our loss," he added.

Mr Aiken said he hoped the recently established Independent Fiscal Council would be a "fitting testimony" to her influence in Belfast.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said she could have been an "excellent" head of the Civil Service here, and there would be a "massive void in her leaving our public sector".

The SDLP's Matthew O'Toole worked with Mrs Gray during his own time as a civil servant. He praised her efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Sue led the Finance Department through the extraordinary upheaval involved in paying out support grants and took public accountability for the operation of those schemes and brought real energy," the South Belfast MLA said.

Former Secretary of State Julian Smith said Mrs Gray had done "exceptional work".

She was one of several people who applied to replace outgoing Civil Service chief Sir David Sterling last year.

However, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill failed to identify an agreed candidate.

In November former Utility Regulator chief executive Jenny Pyper was appointed as interim head of the organisation. Her time in the role is due to expire at the end of July.

The role is currently being re-advertised, with a salary of between £160,563 and £188,272. Applications close on April 15.

Mrs Gray's new role was recommended as part of the Dunlop Review set by up by then-Prime Minister Theresa May in 2019 to ensure Government departments worked together on devolution.

Published last month, the report advised establishing a new Cabinet position for "intergovernmental and constitutional affairs", which would give Union issues "greater visibility".

It also said the minister in the role would have "a duty to uphold the integrity of the constitution".

Mrs Gray has local family connections and lived here in the 1980s, where she ran The Cove pub outside Newry with her husband Bill Conlon, a country and western singer from Portaferry.

During her previous spell in the Cabinet Office she won praise for her role adjudicating on whether rules had been broken by officials, ministers and special advisers, and guided successive UK Governments through crises.