Northern Ireland Civil Service gets new interim head

Former chief of North’s Utility Regulator Jenny Pyper takes on key Covid and Brexit roles

Ms Jenny Pyper will be in charge as Brexit is due to completed.

Ms Jenny Pyper will be in charge as Brexit is due to completed.

Northern Ireland’s recently retired Utility Regulator chief executive Jenny Pyper has been appointed interim head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS), it was announced on Friday.

Three other senior appointments are also understood to be imminent of people who will have key roles in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Pyper, whose appointment was approved by First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, will be in the post for eight months.

Her appointment comes shortly after the North’s auditor general Kieran Donnelly in a critical report said that the civil service was at a “crossroads” and struggling to provide “business as usual services”.

The NICS has been without a head since its former chief David Sterling stood down at the end of August after announcing his intention to retire last December.

In September three candidates made it through a competition for the position but Ms Foster and Ms O’Neill did not deem any of them suitable to take on the job.

Instead they decided to appoint an interim head of the civil service. Ms Pyper will be in charge of a workforce of 22,000.

She stood down as chief executive of the Utility Regulator after seven years in the job. She announced her decision in February but stayed on until the autumn.

Bill Emery, chairman of the Utility Regulator board said in February that Ms Pyper was an “outstanding chief executive” who had “transformed the organisation into a more outward looking and collaborative regulator while robustly protecting Northern Ireland’s energy and water consumers”.

One of Ms Pyper’s initial key duties will be taking charge of the task force to deal with Covid-19 announced by Ms Foster and Ms O’Neill on Thursday.

To assist her in that work Ms Foster and Ms O’Neill are soon expected to announce the appointment of what have been described as three “czars”, one to look after Covid-19 testing, one to run the vaccination campaign, and one to ensure greater compliance of the coronavirus regulations.

“The appointments are all part of a plan to bring badly needed structure to the civil service and to the operation of the departments of the Northern Executive,” said one senior source.

Ms Pyper also will be in charge as Brexit is due to completed.

“She will take up post at a critical time as the Executive continues to manage its response to, and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and prepares for the end of the EU exit transition period,” said Ms Foster and Ms O’Neill in a statement.

“This includes addressing immediate health, societal and economic challenges as well as planning for the future and putting us in the best possible place to rebuild our economy, rejuvenate our society and transform our public services,” they added.

Ms Pyper, who previously worked in the civil service for 28 years, said she was “delighted and honoured” to be selected. “I am confident that the resilience and dedication of the workforce will endure through and beyond these unprecedented times,” she said.

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