Defra permanent secretary Clare Moriarty on 2016, Brexit – and the joys of the #Defraselfie

Written by Civil Service World on 2 December 2016 in Interview
Interview

With the end of 2016 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top civil servants to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2017 – and shed some light on their festive favourites.Clare Moriarty, permanent secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs takes part in our annual perm secs round-up​

What was your highlight of 2016?
Just one? I’d certainly single out smashing the target set by [former environment secretary] Liz Truss for opening up Defra’s data, with a staggering 10,146 data sets published on GOV.UK in 12 months. This challenge engaged people from all over the Defra group, maximising the potential of the data that we hold and also creating an open, customer-focused culture.

Personally, every visit I’ve done has been a highlight. From National Parks to water treatment, Defra deals with such amazing stuff. I’ve loved the warmth I’ve felt in many conversations with people around the Defra group – the way they have responded to my encouragement to “bring yourself to work” and the joys of the #Defraselfie.

What has been the most significant change in your department this year?
EU exit is, for the Defra group, a fundamental change which requires us to think differently about everything we do. Currently 80% of our activity is shaped by our EU membership. As that changes, we will need to reimagine ourselves and the services that we provide. That’s pretty exciting, and there is lots of energy for thinking about opportunities to improve the environment and support the food and farming industry, and rural communities, outside the EU.

"EU exit is, for the Defra group, a fundamental change which requires us to think differently about everything we do​"

What will be the biggest challenge of 2017 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
That has to be EU exit again. Defra has a critically important role to play in withdrawal negotiations and the Repeal Bill, as well as designing our future policies and ensuring a smooth transition to the post-EU world. We are putting programmes in place, increasing our resources and prioritising among current activities to ensure that we can deliver successfully. My personal challenge is to keep us all focused on the big picture and ensure everyone feels listened to.

What was the best Christmas present that you’ve ever given or received? And the worst?
When I was about 12 my grandfather, who was a government scientist, made me a wooden box with a combination lock to keep my stuff safe from a marauding younger brother. I have it still. I’m keeping schtum on the worst present – who knows who might read this article!

More: Perm secs round-up 2016 – Britain's top civil servants review the year and look ahead to 2017

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