Helen MacNamara

British civil servant

Helen MacNamara CB (born c. 1976) is a British former civil servant, who served as the Deputy Cabinet Secretary in the Cabinet Office from 2020 to 2021. She had previously worked as Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet from January 2019 and was Director General for Propriety and Ethics in 2018. Previous to this, she was the Director General for Housing and Planning in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. She worked for Jeremy Heywood in the Cabinet Secretariat from 2013 to 2016.

Helen MacNamara

As a Director in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport she worked on the London 2012 Olympic bid and staging of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Earlier in her career, she worked as Principal Private Secretary to Tessa Jowell and was responsible for setting up the Leveson Inquiry into British media ethics and the subsequent cross-party response.

Quotes edit

2023 edit

"Covid Inquiry latest: Boris Johnson failed to tackle Dominic Cummings 'misogyny' - watch live" (2023) edit

"Covid Inquiry latest: Boris Johnson failed to tackle Dominic Cummings 'misogyny' - watch live", The Telegraph (1 November 2023).
  • [From MacNamara's written statement about a meeting in the prime minister's study on on Friday, 13 March 2020] I have just been talking to the official Mark Sweeney, who is in charge of coordinating with the Department for Health. He said I have been told for years that there is a whole plan for this. There is no plan.
    We are in huge trouble. I have come through here to the Prime Minister’s office to tell you all that I think we are absolutely f-----.
    I think this country is heading for a disaster. I think we are going to kill thousands of people. As soon as I have been told this, I have come through to see you. It seems from the conversation you are having that that is correct.
  • [Boris Johnson's "breezy confidence" about COVID in March 2020] It was the day on which there was a question about whether the Prime Minister should shake hands with people on a visit to the hospital and there was a jokey discussion about alternative greetings to handshakes.
    The Prime Minister felt - not unreasonably - that it was a bit ridiculous for him to suggest alternative greetings.
    But the jovial tone, the view that in implementing containment measures and suspending work and schooling, the Italians were overreacting, and the breezy confidence that we would do better than others had jarred with me.
    I remember saying that I thought that all people wanted to know was what was the right thing to do - and that was not clear.
  • [Referring to the Cabinet Office and No. 10 Downing Street] I would find it hard to pick one day when the regulations were followed properly inside that building. [...]
    I know that because ... there was one meeting where we absolutely adhered to the guidance, to the letter, and that was the cabinet meeting, and everybody moaned about it and tried to change it repeatedly.
    So I know how exceptional it was to really, really, really properly follow the guidance.
  • [MacNamara provided a Karaoke machine for a lockdown-defying gathering for someone who was leaving No. 10 Downing Street] My profound regret is for the damage that’s been caused to so many people because of it, as well as just the mortifying experience of seeing what that looks like and how rightly offended everybody is in retrospect. [...]
    I absolutely knew and thought it was actually important for there to be space for - particularly the private office - to be able to gather together and spend time together.
    That was entirely because of the kind of culture that they were working in and entirely because I was really worried about individuals breaking and suffering, and whether they were going to be okay, and how important their colleagues were to each other.
    I'm saying none of that in excuse of my own misjudgment. I'm saying none of that in excuse of thinking any of these things were okay. But it was a much more complex situation than has allowed to be presented for lots of different reasons.
  • I do not remember anyone working in the centre or who was part of the conversations who had a detailed understanding of the way the NHS operated.
    This is not unusual or unique to that time.
    Social policy and the "operational" management of the state is always under-represented in the centre of power whereas HM Treasury, foreign policy and national security are over-represented in line with what is normally the focus for a Prime Minister.
  • [From MacNamara's written evidence] In terms of the policy response the exclusion of a female perspective led to significant negative consequences, including the lack of thought given to childcare in the context of school closures.
    There was a serious lack of thinking about domestic abuse and the vulnerable, about carers and informal networks for how people look after each other in families and communities.
  • [From MacNamara's written evidence] For example, the long-term impact of a generation of young people being deprived of schooling and peer-group contact for an extended period of time were hard to bring in as a balancing argument because the harm was not immediately quantifiable, or amenable to being reduced into a data set and presented in a diagram.
    Similarly, less visible impacts suffer in this format. I remember it being far too difficult to get people to pay attention to domestic violence and lockdown - and the No 10 Private Secretary (Hannah Young) having to push back against the assertion that it was not an urgent problem because it was “not showing up in the data".

"Helen MacNamara can't recall when Covid rules were followed in No 10 — as it happened" (2023) edit

"Helen MacNamara can't recall when Covid rules were followed in No 10 — as it happened", The Times (1 November 2023).
  • [At the start of 2020] [T]he Cabinet Office in Whitehall had developed some unhealthy habits in terms of ways of working and it was a low trust environment in terms of relationships between the civil service and the prime minister and his political team.
  • If I think about working for [Theresa] May, I don't think there's any world in which we could have got from January to May [2020] and had this sort of culture, because it just wasn't there in the DNA of the organisation at that time.

2024 edit

External links edit

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