Kennedy spent six years at Defra and eight years total in the civil service and is now moving on to a role at professional services firm EY

Defra’s director general of food, biosecurity and trade David Kennedy has announced he will be leaving the government department.

Kennedy spent six years at Defra and eight years in total in the civil service, and is now moving on to a role at professional services firm EY as a climate change and sustainability partner. He leaves Defra later this the summer. 

During his time as Defra’s lead civil servant, Kennedy was a key figure in the government’s response to lockdown panic-buying. He also dealt with its reaction to Brexit supply challenges and those posed by the war in Ukraine.

He established the Food Resilience Industry Forum ‘war room’ in March 2020 – which brought together key food sector stakeholders to co-ordinate how to maintain food supply – and was widely praised for his work. One trade body head told The Grocer in December 2020 that Kennedy was “fearless” in ensuring the food supply chain kept running.

“The fact that we’ve managed to keep the nation fed is considerably down to his energy and his determination,” they added. “And I don’t praise civil servants easily.”

Kennedy also set up the government’s Committee on Climate Change and designed the carbon framework still used to inform government policy.

And he launched the Food Data Transparency Partnership with a five-year mission to draw up a system of mandatory measurement to be used by the industry to measure its impact across three areas: public health (including HFSS and the war on obesity), animal welfare and supply chain emissions.

It comes as the government department has also appointed Nick Joicey as a second permanent secretary. Joicey is a former director general at the Cabinet Office and will act as Defra group chief operating officer, who will oversee the Strategy and Science and Analysis groups within the department. He is also married to Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves.

Elsewhere, there is growing speculation over the future of Defra’s ministerial leadership, with rumours that environment secretary Thérèse Coffey could be removed by prime minister Rishi Sunak in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle – which is expected to be held before party conference season in September and October.

Food sector sources have suggested a number of candidates are being considered for the job including current farming minster Mark Spencer, financial secretary to the treasury Victoria Atkins, ex-Defra secretary and current levelling up secretary Michael Gove and Commons leader Penny Mordaunt.

Meanwhile, an expected shadow cabinet shake-up could lead to changes in Keir Starmer’s front bench team over the coming weeks, with the likes of Hillary Benn and Dan Jarvis being touted by Westminster insiders as potential successors to Jim McMahon in the shadow Defra secretary brief.