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Is the British Civil Service an endangered species?

23 May 2019, 5:30pm

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The Bennett CSaP Distinguished Lecture will be delivered by Lord Wilson of Dinton

Thursday 23 May 2019 (17:30 - 18:45 followed by drinks reception)

Queen's Lecture Theatre, Emmanuel College, Cambridge

In 2002, just before he retired as Cabinet Secretary, Lord Wilson delivered a reflective talk about the state of his profession. In the much-changed world of 2019 he will revisit this subject from the point of view of an outsider, based in the House of Lords, as he is now. How well have the traditional values of the Civil Service fared in these turbulent times, not least of Brexit and constitutional tension? How much continuity has there been, and what has changed? What difference does the digital revolution make to the world in which civil servants work? Lord Wilson will offer a personal perspective on these and other questions, placing the evolution of the Civil Service in the context of recent political history and the challenges which it may face in the decades ahead.


Lord Wilson is a former Cabinet Secretary and former Master, Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge. He is currently Chair of the CSaP Policy Leaders Fellowship.

Richard Wilson read law at Clare College Cambridge (1961-65), but rather than practice, entered the Civil Service as an assistant principal in the Board of Trade in 1966. He subsequently served in a number of departments including 12 years in the Department of Energy where his responsibilities included nuclear power policy, the privatisation of Britoil, personnel and finance. He headed the Economic Secretariat in the Cabinet Office under Mrs Thatcher from 1987-90 and after two years in the Treasury was appointed Permanent Secretary of the Department of the Environment in 1992. He became Permanent Under Secretary of the Home Office in 1994 and Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service in January 1998.

On his retirement in September 2002 he became Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, stepping down in 2012. He remains actively interested in the contribution of academic research to policy making, an interest which led him to take a leading role in the Cambridge University Government Policy Programme which preceded the foundation of CSaP.


The Bennett Institute for Public Policy launched in 2018 at the University of Cambridge. It seeks to drive forward research into the growing demand for a more equitable distribution of the world’s natural and social assets and examine the impact that technological change is having on the nature of work, community and consumption around the world. The institute brings together world-class research from across Cambridge in technology, engineering and the natural sciences with a deep understanding of the social and political forces that are remaking democracy and generating fundamental challenges for governments across the world.

Photo by Ciprianbogacs licensed under CC

Lord Richard Wilson

Policy Leaders Fellowship