As Cabinet Secretary to three prime ministers, Lord O’Donnell was by the side of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and then David Cameron as they took difficult decisions. As the head of the Civil Service, his discretion was always assured and explains why they all still hold him in such high regard.
Yet, given that it is incredibly rare for such esteemed figures to intervene on policy, particularly domestic matters, even more credence should be attached to Lord O’Donnell’s essay in The Yorkshire Post on the importance of key skills to this region’s future prospects.
No one has a better insight into how the wheels of government turn – or do not in this instance. No one also has a greater understanding of the day-to-day pressures facing premiers, hence the total absence of personal criticism.
But Lord O’Donnell cares passionately about his country and his view that skills matter as much to the much-vaunted levelling up agenda than new infrastructure is one that will be shared by most major employers. As he implies, Yorkshire’s greatest asset is its people and they need empowering if they’re not to pay the price for low numeracy and literacy skills in comparison to other parts of the country.
It is a view that this newspaper also highlighted as part of the Power Up The North campaign. The challenge is reversing this imbalance when catch-up plans for schools have been condemned as derisory, when the Government’s levelling up objectives remain unspecified and when Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is simply dismissed as a figure of fun.