Gus O'Donnell 'to quit before next election'

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Indy Politics

Britain's most senior civil servant, Sir Gus O'Donnell, has decided to quit before the next general election, giving David Cameron the chance to appoint a successor, it was reported last night.

Mr Cameron would like to score a historic first by appointing a woman as his successor, it was claimed – although he may find that a challenge given how male-dominated the top of the Civil Service is.

As Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus, 57, played a major part in negotiations between the political parties when the May general election produced the first hung parliament since 1974.

He revealed in a BBC documentary that he was afraid that a minority government, coupled with the economic crisis in Greece, could upset the markets, so he urged the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to come to a comprehensive agreement as fast as possible. Labour accused him of going beyond the required neutrality of the Civil Service.

Sir Gus came to prominence when John Major transferred him from the Treasury to be his press secretary in 1990, but he had his best years under Labour. Back at the Treasury in 1997, he helped to draw up the conditions to be met before the UK could adopt the euro. He considers this "good example of evidence-based policy" a highlight of his career.

Born in 1952 and educated at a state school in Battersea, he studied economics at Warwick and Nuffield College, Oxford. He lectured at Glasgow University for four years before joining the Civil Service in 1979.

On one of his press trips with Mr Major, he came upon a roulette table with no zero, and astonished the press pack by demonstrating what he said was an infallible method of winning.

He was appointed Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet in 2005, with a salary of £240,000. He will have a lump sum of £305,000 and an income of £105,000 a year when he retires.