Johnson appoints former private health executive as No 10 ‘head of people’

Boris Johnson has appointed a temporary chief operating officer in Downing Street as he rebuilds his depleted top team in an attempt to persuade fractious Tory MPs he can reassert his grip on government.

Samantha Jones, a former nurse and healthcare leader – including in the private sector – has been advising the prime minister on managing the pandemic. She will take on the new role for six months.

Jones was until last year the chief executive of Operose Health, the UK subsidiary of a US private health firm called Centene, which provides services including primary care to the NHS. She is also a former NHS trust chief executive.

Downing Street said Jones would be chief operating officer and permanent secretary for Downing Street, and would help to establish a new Office of the Prime Minister.

One No 10 source described her role as “head of people”, highlighting her experience across the public and private sectors. Two more appointments are expected within days – a “gatekeeper”, whose role No 10 sources compared to that of Tony Blair’s formidable aide Anji Hunter, and a “delivery-focused” person. Both are expected to be what the source called “alpha females”.

Alongside “failures of leadership”, Sue Gray’s report into lockdown-busting gatherings in No 10 warned “the leadership structures are fragmented and complicated and this has sometimes led to the blurring of lines of accountability”. Johnson told MPs in response: “I get it and I’ll fix it.”

He has already appointed the Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay to be his new chief of staff, replacing the departing Dan Rosenfield; MP Andrew Griffith as head of policy; and former lobbyist Guto Harri as director of communications.

Griffith’s role was hastily announced last Thursday after Johnson’s longstanding policy chief, Munira Mirza, who had been at his side for more than a decade, resigned over his attempt to link Keir Starmer to the failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile. Mirza called the prime minister’s use of the slur “scurrilous”.

Jones said: “I look forward to establishing an Office for the Prime Minister that provides him with the professional operation to deliver his agenda.”

In a 2017 blog for the Health Foundation, Jones argued that ensuring an organisation had the right culture was just as important as getting the structure right.

She said: “You have to change people’s behaviours and that means focusing on leadership, building relationships, and making sure everyone understands and shares a common purpose.

“Equally, just focusing on the softer behavioural aspects (arguably the harder work) without structural changes, won’t be sustainable. It is when you put organic behavioural change together with structural change that it really gets powerful.”


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