Richard McCarthy, Neil Kinghan and Joe Montgomery vie for senior role at ODPM.

Three men are said to be leading the race to replace Mavis McDonald as the top civil servant in the ODPM, writes Stuart Macdonald.

They are Richard McCarthy, Neil Kinghan and Joe Montgomery (see below right), all of whom hold senior positions in the department.

McDonald announced last year that she intended to step down as permanent secretary in October but there has been little jostling to succeed her. The recruitment process will be restricted to civil servants and has been co-ordinated by the Cabinet Office.

The successful candidate will be responsible for administering the department’s £50bn annual budget, much of which is filtered through to housebuilders and contractors by local authorities, housing associations and regeneration bodies.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said the £145,000-a-year post would not be advertised externally and that an appointment would be made by the end of next month. McDonald will end a 39-year association with the department where she has risen through the ranks to be responsible for 6310 staff.

The spokesperson said: “This is standard practice for this type of appointment. We will be getting the recruitment process moving pretty quickly.”

The successful candidate will be responsible for administering £50bn annual budget

The Cabinet Office and the tipped candidates declined to comment on who had applied.

Were McCarthy to be successful it would cap a dramatic rise since leaving his job as chief executive of the Peabody Trust in October 2003 to become director general of sustainable communities at the ODPM. A source said: “It will be very interesting to see who gets the job. If they appoint McCarthy it would be a huge break with tradition as he is not a career civil servant. It would be surprising for him to rise so fast.”

The appointment is one of a number of high-profile civil service posts that are set to be filled by October. There is a post of permanent secretary vacant at the Treasury after Sir Gus O’Donnell’s move to the Cabinet Office to become head of the civil service.

There also vacancies for the post of permanent secretary at DEFRA, the Ministry of Defence and the Northern Ireland Office.

Who’s in the running

Richard McCarthy, director general, sustainable committeesThe 47 year old has made no secret of his ambitions since arriving at the ODPM in 2003. His background is in social housing, starting at Hyde Housing Association, before moving to the highest profile job in the sector – chief executive of The Peabody Trust.
Odds: 10-1

Joe Montgomery, head of neighbourhood renewal unit“Dapper Joe” as he is known because of his snappy appearance has headed the unit since it was set up in 2001. Not a career civil servant, his previous post was as executive director of regeneration at Lewisham council. Montgomery has survived several reshuffles.
Odds: 15-1

Neil Kinghan, director general of local and regional governmentThe favourite. Kinghan, 53, is easily the most experienced of the candidates, having worked in the Department of Environment for 20 years, followed by a six-year stint at the Local Government Association, before returning to Whitehall.Odds: evens