Treasury leader Cat Little named next civil service COO

The role – which comes with the post of  Cabinet Office permanent secretary and a brief to drive government reform – will be filled by the current head of Whitehall’s finance function

Cat Little has been chosen as the next civil service chief operating officer and Cabinet Office permanent secretary – a role which comes with a remit to oversee transformation across government.

Little, who is currently second perm sec at the Treasury and head of the government finance function, will take up the role on 2 April, replacing Sir Alex Chisholm, who is leaving the civil service.

Following an early career at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Little held finance director roles at the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Defence, before moving to the Treasury, initially as director general for public spending and head of the government finance function. In October 2022, she was promoted to second perm sec for public spending and international finance, retaining the head of function role. 

Little said it has been “an honour” to lead the finance function, while overseeing public spending and international finance through “complex and challenging times”. She said she is looking forward to continuing to work with the Treasury in her new role, as well as “getting to know Cabinet Office teams, supporting cross-cutting systems delivery, continued functional excellence and leading the next phase of civil service reform”.

She described her new appointment, which was made by cabinet secretary Simon Case with approval from the prime minister, as a “great honour” .

In a recent interview – published by PublicTechnology as part of our Digital Leaders’ Download series – Little discussed the potential of artificial intelligence, of which Chisholm has also been an advocate, claiming that it could save government £5bn a year and take workload from tens of thousands of jobs.

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“I’m particularly interested at the moment in how we analyse large amounts of complex data for consistent decision making, including generative AI, complex data analysis models and large language models,” Little said. “These help us to give the right tools to decision makers, case workers and operational delivery teams on the ground.”

In the interview, conducted by the Central Digital and Data Office, the new Cabinet Office chief also talked about seeing herself as a digital leader.

“We are all digital leaders in government and we have a number of responsibilities, most importantly around culture and behaviours,” she said. “Digital is a fundamental part of the way we do business in our day-to-day jobs. It’s our responsibility to look after policy, money, operational delivery, and digital is part of that. We don’t all need to be experts in digital but we do need to understand the expertise involved and know enough to role model putting digital at the heart of how we do our jobs.”

Cabinet secretary Case said he is “delighted” to appoint Little to the COO role, adding that her experience “makes her uniquely positioned to lead the Cabinet Office through the next stage of its development”.

Case said he is confident that Little will ensure “excellence” in the delivery of cross-government functions and in the historic Cabinet Office role supporting the prime minister, deputy prime minister and cabinet.

Little will also continue Chisholm’s work leading lead reform of the civil service, Case confirmed.

“I wish Cat every success in her new role and look forward to working with her,” he added.

The head of the civil service also thanked Chisholm for his “dedication and service over the last four years, and for his many years of public service before joining the Cabinet Office”.

Case added that he is “personally very grateful to Alex for his leadership of the department and his commitment to driving reform across government”.

Little said it is “humbling to follow” in Chisholm’s footsteps, thanking him for “his leadership and support as a colleague over many years”.

Oliver Dowden, deputy prime minister and Cabinet Office secretary, said Little will bring “extensive experience” from the private and public sectors to the role and help to “forge a leaner, more modern civil service, that will deliver this government’s plan for the future of the United Kingdom”.

The Cabinet Office offered a salary of between £170,000 and £185,000 in its job advert for the role. Little was appointed following an open competition.

Tevye Markson and PublicTechnology staff

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