IED Annual Award 2023 winner: Lord Bob Kerslake
Lord Bob Kerslake, former head of the UK’s civil service and permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), has been granted a posthumous IED award for Outstanding Contribution to Economic Development.
This special award, chosen by the IED, recognises an individual who has made a sustained and outstanding contribution to the field of economic development. Presented to the late Lord Kerslake’s daughter Eleanor at the awards evening, IED Chair Tom Stannard said “there is no more worthy recipient for this award.”
Universally known as ‘Bob’ – even after he was knighted for services to local government in 2005 – he was born in Bath and brought up in Somerset, where he attended the Blue school in Wells, before going to the University of Warwick, where he obtained a first-class degree in mathematics. After training as an accountant, he joined the Greater London council, which was abolished in 1986, and then the Inner London Education Authority, before it too was abolished by the government in 1989.
That led to senior jobs, including Chief Executive at the London Borough of Hounslow, before he was appointed Chief Executive at Sheffield City Council in 1997. In the 10 years he was there, Bob led the revitalisation of the city, and during that time The Guardian described him as one of England’s most visionary local authority chief executives. He was lured away by the prospect of heading the new Homes and Communities Agency, later replaced by Homes England in 2018.
By then, Bob had moved into national government under the Coalition government in 2010 as permanent secretary at the DCLG. Two years after that the Cameron government split the job at the top of the civil service, between Jeremy Heywood, who would be the cabinet secretary in Downing Street, and Bob, who would take the title of head of the service, responsible for professional and corporate leadership, while retaining his departmental post at the DCLG.
In 2014 he left government to become chair of the King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and to take on a number of other roles, including chairing the governors of Sheffield Hallam University. In 2015 he joined the board of the Peabody housing association, the same year that he was given a life peerage as he left the civil service. Two years later he chaired an independent review into the Manchester Arena bombing, leaving a huge positive legacy for the recovery of the City Region.
From July 2018, Bob chaired the UK2070 Commission, alongside IED Patron Baroness Blake, focusing on city and regional inequalities in the UK. In 2019 he became chair of the New Economics Foundation, and in 2022, of Stockport’s Mayoral Development Corporation in Greater Manchester. A prolific media commentator, Bob was giving broadcast interviews and writing opinion pieces for the national and sector media until just weeks before his untimely passing this July. Even in September, Bob’s legacy lived on, with the publication of the Kerslake Commission report on homelessness and rough sleeping.
Tom said: “Described by one commentator as a most eminent advocate for local authorities, by another as the kindest of men, and to the IED a prolific contributor to and exceptional leader of UK economic development. Quite simply, a leader of integrity and a true public servant. It was a real honour to welcome Eleanor to receive our Outstanding Contribution to Economic Development award on behalf of her late father, the great Lord Bob Kerslake, a much missed giant of our profession. Whilst a small token of the IED’s appreciation of Bob’s immeasurable contribution to our profession, our warmest thanks to Eleanor and Bob’s family for enabling us to remember him in this way.”