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Mystery Move Sees Security Vetting Shift from Ministry of Defence to Gove’s Cabinet Office

David Hencke reports on what appears to be another centralising power grab as part of Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings’ plans to fundamentally change Whitehall

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove. Photo: PA Images

Mystery Move Sees Security Vetting Shift from Defence to Gove’s Cabinet Office

David Hencke reports on what appears to be another centralising power grab as part of Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings’ plans to fundamentally change Whitehall

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The Government is centralising and streamlining the security vetting of 200,000 people every year in a major change to the system.

Responsibility for the UK Security Vetting organisation has been taken away from the Ministry of Defence and transferred to Michael Gove at the Cabinet Office as a prelude to its digitalisation.

The Cabinet Office intends to set up a database of all people who have been vetted and is promising faster approval in routine cases when people’s security passes are renewed.

Senior civil servants, top military figures, workers and contractors in Parliament and Whitehall, lobby journalists, as well as people working in the security services receive the highest security clearance.

They have to disclose details of their spouses, parents, their addresses and any past criminal offences including motoring offences before they can be approved for a security pass. Their sponsors have to have prove that they are British citizens and their previous work record is scrutinised.

The move marks as further centralisation of power in the Cabinet Office and a lesser role for the Ministry of Defence. It is unclear whether this is part of the review by Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s controversial chief adviser, to change the role of the department. It also appears to have coincided with Cummings’ visits to top security centres including Porton Down.

Details of the big changes afoot have been revealed in the work specification for a new chief executive of the UK Security Vetting Service who will be appointed in the autumn.

The brief states: “Vetting is going through a period of substantial change. The organisation is moving out of the Ministry of Defence and into Cabinet Office and the centre of the security function, not least so it can begin a process of transformation and modernisation to meet the widest needs of the whole security community.

“A new technology platform for the vetting service is in development that will provide many improvement opportunities.”

The chief executive role has a salary of around £115,000 a year.

The specification states: “The successful candidate will also complete the move of UKSV from the Ministry of Defence to Cabinet Office and transform UKSV into a high performing, digitally enabled service. The ambition is to make UKSV the exemplar shared service operation in government and the envy of our international partners.

“We want to enhance levels of assurance and reduce clearance times from months to weeks for the highest levels of clearance and from weeks to days for lower level checks.”

The job will also have a wider role among the 10,000 security professionals in Whitehall and will include liaison with the private sector.

The specification goes on: “To complement and facilitate this transformation mandate, you will engender and embed a culture change strategy, establishing yourself as a visible, accessible and credible leader of not only the vetting organisation, but also within the wider Security Function.”

This includes liaison with the private sector, with the individual expected to “represent and lobby for the organisation and government security on strategic issues in a wide range of nationally and internationally significant fora”.

The appointment will be made by a panel headed by Jan Cameron, a Civil Service Commissioner; Dominic Fortescue, the Cabinet Office’s chief security officer; and a third person still to be named.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson told the Byline Times that “The transfer of UKSV from the MoD was agreed in 2018 and took place on 1 April 2020.

“This decision was taken in order to further modernise national security vetting and facilitate greater consistency of clearances across government.” 

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