DWP perm sec Peter Schofield reflects on his first year in the top job – from visiting HMP Norwich to implementing Universal Credit
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?
It would definitely have to be being appointed as the permanent secretary at DWP. In my view, there is no better place to work in the civil service, given the difference we make to the lives of so many people. This role gives me the opportunity to meet DWP colleagues across the country and see at first hand the crucial and challenging work that they do. And I also see how we work in partnership with others. One particularly memorable experience was visiting HMP Norwich, to see how DWP prison work coaches are working with colleagues in the Prison Service to help released prisoners to start new lives, with a job, in the community. It was a real example of how the civil service is working together to change lives for good.
What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2018?
There is so much external pressure on the civil service, and in the midst of this I want colleagues to feel supported and encouraged that what we do matters and is appreciated. That is why I prioritise going out and meeting colleagues who work up and down the length of the country every week. I am always blown away by colleagues’ passion for what they do, so I find it really hard when we see negative stories about DWP in the media. It makes me all the more determined to get the message out about what we are really doing, and the difference we are making.
What are the main challenges facing your department in the coming year?
This is one of the most challenging times in our department’s history. We’re in the midst of rolling out some huge welfare reforms, like Universal Credit, and we also need to make sure that we’re preparing for the future. So over the coming months we’re designing and implementing even more new digital solutions that will help us to meet our changing customer needs. This will include preparing to start testing how we transfer claimants from our legacy benefits to Universal Credit, and growing our plans for how we can make sure we’re here for our customers now, next year and for many years to come. And we’ll have Brexit and a Spending Review to respond and adapt to. One thing I’m really passionate about is how we work with other government departments to meet our goals. We’re one of the few places that citizens can just walk into to get support from the government, and often what we help with can’t be viewed in isolation. Now more than ever, it is fundamental that we work collaboratively with other departments, local authorities, charities and other external partners to give our customers the full support they sometimes need.
Which celebrity or historical figure would you choose to turn on the Christmas lights in your town, and why?
My family have just got into Celebrity Hunted on Channel 4, so I would love it if the final challenge was to switch on the lights in Redhill without being caught by the hunters. It would certainly make a change from the normal C-list “celebrity” event we get!
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