- 1. Career
- 1.1. Cabinet Office
Second Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office
Organization: Cabinet Office
Susan Gray is a British civil servant who in May 2021 became Second Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office, reporting to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
She joined the Cabinet Office in the late 1990s, after previous postings to health, transport, and work and pensions. She eventually served in the Cabinet Office as the director, and then from 2012 director-general, of the propriety and ethics team and head of the Private Offices Group, directly under the Cabinet Secretary. In her role overseeing ministerial offices and ethics in government, and so taking on sensitive matters and 'crises' arising around how government is run, Gray was described as "the woman who runs the country".
In 2011, Gray advised Michael Gove that conducting government business via private e-mail accounts would make it exempt from transparency laws, which was found incorrect in 2012 by the Information Commissioner. In 2012 alone, as part of her miscellaneous duties, she ran the "Plebgate" inquiry inside the Cabinet Office, the 2010+ reform of non-departmental public bodies, and the investigation into allegations against Damian Green MP relating to his use of computers intended for work purposes; Green was subsequently fired from his Cabinet position.
In January 2018, the Northern Ireland Executive announced that Gray would transfer to the Northern Ireland Civil Service as Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance in the Northern Ireland Executive from May 2018. In April 2018, it was announced that Gray would be replaced at the Cabinet Office by Helen MacNamara. In 2020, Gray sought but failed to be appointed as the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and in a subsequent interview with the BBC said: "I suspect people may have thought that I perhaps was too much of a challenger, or a disrupter. I am both…" In May 2021, Gray returned to Whitehall to become the Second Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office, reporting to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to be in charge of policy on the Union and the constitution. As such, she reported initially to Michael Gove, who was replaced in September 2021 by Steve Barclay.
Following press reports about gatherings and parties on government premises during restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2021 – a controversy which became widely known as "Partygate" – the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case initiated and led an investigation into the allegations. A few days later he recused himself after it became known that an event had been held in his own office, and subsequently Gray took over the investigation. Whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson knew about and participated in gatherings at Downing Street is part of the investigation. Gray's initial findings were published on 31 January 2022. In the report, Gray condemned "a serious failure" in the standards of leadership, and also stated that a string of gatherings were "difficult to justify" while millions were unable to meet their friends and relatives. Publication of the full report was postponed pending the completion of an investigation by the Metropolitan Police. The police reported in May 2022 that their inquiries had resulted in 126 fixed penalty notices being issued. Gray's final report was delivered to Johnson on 25 May 2022 and it was published later that morning.