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A private secretary (PS) is a
civil servant The civil service is a collective term for a sector of government composed mainly of career civil servants hired on professional merit rather than appointed or elected, whose institutional tenure typically survives transitions of political leader ...
in a governmental department or ministry, responsible to a secretary of state or minister; or a public servant in a royal household, responsible to a member of the
royal family A royal family is the immediate family of kings/queens, emirs/emiras, sultans/ sultanas, or raja/rani and sometimes their extended family. The term imperial family appropriately describes the family of an emperor or empress, and the term pap ...
. The role exists in the civil service of the United Kingdom and several
Commonwealth A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good. Historically, it has been synonymous with " republic". The noun "commonwealth", meaning "public welfare, general good or advantage", dates from th ...
countries including
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. With an area of , Australia is the largest country b ...
,
India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by area, the second-most populous country, and the most populous democracy in the world. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the so ...
and New Zealand as well as other countries influenced by the Westminster system. A private secretary is normally of middle management level; however, as the key official responsible for disseminating ministers' decisions and guidance on matters of policy, and as their gatekeeper, the role is of considerably greater significance than their grade would suggest. Depending on the status of the political principal the official works for, they may be aided by an assistant private secretary (APS), or head a private office. A principal private secretary, or senior private secretary, is a senior civil servant who runs a
cabinet minister A minister is a politician who heads a ministry, making and implementing decisions on policies in conjunction with the other ministers. In some jurisdictions the head of government is also a minister and is designated the ‘ prime minister’ ...
's private office. A similar role to a principal private secretary in the
United States federal government The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government or U.S. government) is the national government of the United States, a federal republic located primarily in North America, composed of 50 states, a city within a f ...
would be
chief of staff The title chief of staff (or head of staff) identifies the leader of a complex organization such as the armed forces, institution, or body of persons and it also may identify a principal staff officer (PSO), who is the coordinator of the supporti ...
. The private secretary to the sovereign is viewed as being equivalent to a
permanent secretary A permanent secretary (also known as a principal secretary) is the most senior civil servant of a department or ministry charged with running the department or ministry's day-to-day activities. Permanent secretaries are the non-political civil s ...
, the head of a government department.


In the United Kingdom

The role of the private secretary to a secretary of state originated in the 18th century. Today, a junior minister may have a three-person private office consisting of a private secretary and two assistant private secretaries; whereas a more senior minister may have a five-person private office consisting of a senior private secretary, private secretary and three assistant private secretaries. The same applies to a Cabinet-level minister's private office but on a larger scale, due to a cabinet minister usually being responsible for entire government departments and agencies. Where the private secretary is a member of the Senior Civil Service, he or she will be referred to as a principal private secretary. The order of precedence is principal private secretary, senior private secretary (rarely now in existence), private secretary and assistant private secretary. A similar role to a principal private secretary in the
United States federal government The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government or U.S. government) is the national government of the United States, a federal republic located primarily in North America, composed of 50 states, a city within a f ...
would be
chief of staff The title chief of staff (or head of staff) identifies the leader of a complex organization such as the armed forces, institution, or body of persons and it also may identify a principal staff officer (PSO), who is the coordinator of the supporti ...
. The private secretary is the principal link between a government minister and officials in the department or ministry. He or she has overall responsibility for coordinating the development of the minister's policy remit, ensuring that the decisions of the minister are clearly and fully implemented by the department. In that respect a PS and APS will often be in a position of debate with colleagues of much higher seniority, as well as be a sounding board for senior officials in the department and other ministerial private offices in Whitehall. A PS or an APS is always in attendance with the minister at every official meeting or event to provide support; and to ensure that a member of the Civil Service, who are non-political appointees, takes a factual note of discussions and commitments made. They also have ownership of the ministerial diary, managing the minister's time with the diary secretary. This means prioritising invitations, commitments, policy briefings and submissions and parliamentary business. A PS is always the initial source of advice to Ministers on policy, parliamentary protocol, the process of cabinet government and departmental administration. Often the PS and APS will take on specific responsibilities within the private office, dividing their minister's portfolio between them, with each PS dealing solely with policy, correspondence and diary matters relating to it. They often deputise and support other members of the PO temporarily, but would be considered subject matter experts for that area of work in the department. Working in a private office as a private secretary or an assistant private secretary is highly desired due to widely being seen as essential for advancement to the Senior Civil Service. Although considered to be a highly rewarding and sought-after post, it is one of the most difficult when compared to others at the equivalent grade. Depending upon the seniority of their political principal, private secretaries may be regarded as important officials in their own right; the Private Secretary to the Sovereign and the Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister being the most important. The former is viewed as being equivalent to a
Permanent Secretary A permanent secretary (also known as a principal secretary) is the most senior civil servant of a department or ministry charged with running the department or ministry's day-to-day activities. Permanent secretaries are the non-political civil s ...
, the head of a government department, and the latter is currently equivalent to a Director General in the Civil Service. Other notable positions include the
Principal Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs The principal private secretary to the secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs is the head of the private office of the foreign minister of the His Majesty's Government, and is located in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Main ...
. Private secretaries also work in the
royal households Royal may refer to: People * Royal (name), a list of people with either the surname or given name * A member of a royal family Places United States * Royal, Arkansas, an unincorporated community * Royal, Illinois, a village * Royal, Iowa, a ...
for the working members of the British royal family. The household of the
prince of Wales Prince of Wales ( cy, Tywysog Cymru, ; la, Princeps Cambriae/Walliae) is a title traditionally given to the heir apparent to the English and later British throne. Prior to the conquest by Edward I in the 13th century, it was used by the ruler ...
, as
heir apparent An heir apparent, often shortened to heir, is a person who is first in an order of succession and cannot be displaced from inheriting by the birth of another person; a person who is first in the order of succession but can be displaced by the b ...
to the
British throne The monarchy of the United Kingdom, commonly referred to as the British monarchy, is the constitutional form of government by which a hereditary sovereign reigns as the head of state of the United Kingdom, the Crown Dependencies (the Baili ...
, is led by a principal private secretary, who runs his private office. A
parliamentary private secretary A Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) is a Member of Parliament (MP) in the United Kingdom who acts as an unpaid assistant to a minister or shadow minister. They are selected from backbench MPs as the 'eyes and ears' of the minister in the Ho ...
(PPS) is a member of Parliament appointed to act as unpaid assistant to a minister, and should not be confused with a private secretary.


In popular culture

A classic explanation is provided in the British sitcom ''
Yes Minister ''Yes Minister'' is a British political satire sitcom written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. Comprising three seven-episode series, it was first transmitted on BBC2 from 1980 to 1984. A sequel, ''Yes, Prime Minister'', ran for 16 episodes fr ...
''. : Sir Humphrey (the Permanent Secretary) briefs Hacker (the Minister) on the Department's workings: (From the episode " Open Government", transmitted 25 February 1980)


In the Commonwealth


Australia

In
Australian Public Service The Australian Public Service (APS) is the federal civil service of the Commonwealth of Australia responsible for the public administration, public policy, and public services of the departments and executive and statutory agencies of the ...
the principal private secretary is the civil servant who runs a cabinet minister's private office.


India


Staff of the Union Cabinet

In India, the post of private secretary (PS) and an additional private secretary (APS) to the
Union Council of Ministers of India The Union Council of Ministers Article 58 of the ''Constitution of India'' is the principal executive organ of the Government of India, which is responsible for being the senior decision making body of the executive branch. It is chaired by t ...
(cabinet ministers and minister of state) are Group A (
All India Services The All India Services (AIS) comprises the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and Indian Forest Service. A unique feature of the All India Services is that the members of these services are recruited by the centre (Union gover ...
or Central Civil Services) officers, appointed by the
President of India The president of India (IAST: ) is the head of state of the Republic of India. The president is the nominal head of the executive, the first citizen of the country, as well as the commander-in-chief of the Indian Armed Forces. Droupadi Murm ...
. In
Prime Minister's Office (India) The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) (IAST: ''Pradhānamantrī Kāryālaya'') consists of the immediate staff of the Prime Minister of India, as well as multiple levels of support staff reporting to the Prime Minister. The PMO is headed by the Pri ...
, the private secretary to
Prime Minister of India The prime minister of India (IAST: ) is the head of government of the Republic of India. Executive authority is vested in the prime minister and their chosen Council of Ministers, despite the president of India being the nominal head of the ...
is always in the rank and post of
Joint secretary to the Government of India Joint Secretary to Government of India (often abbreviated as JS, GoI or Union Joint Secretary or Joint Secretary to Union of India) is a post under the Central Staffing Scheme and the third highest non-political executive rank in Government of ...
.


Staff in civil services

Senior principal private secretary (Senior PPS) is a member of Central Secretariat Stenographers Service and is one rank above principal private secretary that takes care of the office of a secretary to the Government of India or the equivalent rank officer Member CBBC or Member Railway Board. P.S.O. is principal staff officer, who is also a member of Central Secretariat Stenographers Service and a rank above senior principal private secretary that takes care of the office of a secretary to the Government of India or an equivalently ranked member of the Central Board for Excise and Customs,Member of the Central Board for Excise and Customs
/ref> member of the Railway Board, or the chairman. Pay is equivalent to that of a director to the Government of India.


New Zealand

Persons holding the role of private secretary to a minister in New Zealand are civil servants. Senior Private Secretaries are the equivalent of a chief of staff and have the responsibility of managing a minister's office. Members of Parliament who are appointed as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary are also entitled to appoint a Senior Private Secretary to their staff.


Outside the Commonwealth


Japan

A system of the ministerial secretary ( 秘書官, ''Hishokan''), one to several per minister playing a role similar to the private secretary's, is also employed by the political system in Japan. The seven secretaries appointed to the prime minister are called the executive secretaries to the prime minister ( 内閣総理大臣秘書官).


See also

*
Chief of staff The title chief of staff (or head of staff) identifies the leader of a complex organization such as the armed forces, institution, or body of persons and it also may identify a principal staff officer (PSO), who is the coordinator of the supporti ...
*'' Chef de Cabinet'' *
Parliamentary assistant In UK politics, a parliamentary assistant is an unelected partisan member of staff employed by a Member of Parliament (MP) to assist them with their parliamentary duties. Parliamentary assistants usually work at the House of Commons in the ...
* Parliamentary secretary *
Permanent secretary A permanent secretary (also known as a principal secretary) is the most senior civil servant of a department or ministry charged with running the department or ministry's day-to-day activities. Permanent secretaries are the non-political civil s ...


References

{{Reflist, 2 Civil Service (United Kingdom) Civil Services of India