This article was originally published in The Financial Times
Sharon White has become the first woman – and the first black person – to be appointed as a permanent secretary at the Treasury, in a sign of the changing face of Whitehall’s most powerful department.
Ms White becomes second permanent secretary with responsibility for managing Britain’s public finances, including overseeing a fiscal squeeze expected to last until 2020.
She worked at the Treasury in the early 1990s – former Conservative chancellor Ken Clarke was said to be a big fan – and has also worked across Whitehall. In 2011, she led the review of the Treasury’s management response to the financial crisis. Before becoming a civil servant, she worked for a church in a deprived area of Birmingham.
Ms White’s ascendancy reflects a change in the make-up of the Treasury, which a decade ago had a staff that was more than 75 per cent male only. Today 43 per cent of employees are women.
Dame Anne Mueller was a Treasury permanent secretary in the 1980s, but she secured her job as part of a general Whitehall upheaval. Treasury officials say she was not “appointed” to the post.
As Ms White remarked in an interview with The Guardian last year, the Treasury has been seen by many on the outside as having “quite a macho culture” and that economics, as a discipline, was still male dominated.
But her appointment also throws up an intriguing dynamic in the White household; while she oversees Britain’s public finances, Robert Chote, her husband, runs the independent Office for Budget Responsibility.
The Treasury said Ms White was “overwhelmingly the best candidate for the job” and that, while she would come into contact with the OBR, she was not the lead official dealing with the budgetary watchdog.
Ms White works under Sir Nick Macpherson, permanent secretary, and alongside John Kingman, a second permanent secretary.
Tom Scholar, the incumbent, moves to Downing Street as David Cameron’s foreign policy adviser.