Department for Transport perm sec Bernadette Kelly on the landmark airport vote in 2018
With the end of 2018 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top civil servants to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2019 – and tell us who would turn on their town’s Christmas lights.
What was your highlight of 2018?
The parliamentary vote in favour of the government’s airport capacity National Policy Statement on 25 June was a fantastic moment for DfT. We were quietly optimistic about winning the vote but the majority of 296 was bigger than anyone expected. This was a huge step for one of the biggest infrastructure challenges facing the UK, and the culmination of years of hard work. The late night email from Jeremy Heywood describing it as a “momentous moment” summed up our mood. Our “Year of Engineering” campaign has attracted the likes of Lego, Apple, FIFA and Facebook and is transforming the image of engineering as a career for kids across the country. And I was delighted to be asked to be civil service social mobility champion.
What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2018?
For DfT, rail timetabling issues in May and June was a tough period. What should have been a great milestone for the Thameslink programme instead became a period of unacceptable disruption for train passengers – including lots of colleagues. Subsequent investigation has shown the failure went to the heart of how the rail industry works. I’m proud of how teams in DfT responded, working hard with the industry to improve performance day by day, and we now have the chance through Keith Williams’ review to get this right for passengers in the future.
What are the main challenges facing your department in the coming year?
EU exit will feature prominently, of course. Continuing to deliver our portfolio of projects including HS2, Crossrail and those on our railway and roads across the country is more vital than ever, connecting places and supporting housing and jobs. The chair of the Public Accounts Committee has said rail franchising is high on her list, so obviously it’s on mine too! The industrial strategy Future of Mobility Grand Challenge is a great opportunity to think about how technology, new business models and data are changing the way people use transport, and to tackle congestion, air quality and accessibility. Finally, we are modernising our building and IT, which I hope will make DfT an even more flexible and inclusive place to work.
Which celebrity or historical figure would you choose to turn on the Christmas lights in your town, and why?
I’d invite Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl so they could give us a live rendition of Fairytale of New York. Then I’d encourage Shane to have a lie-down so we could have a solo concert from Kirsty.