John Manzoni on a year of 'maintaining normal service at a time of extraordinary political complexity'

Written by Civil Service World on 23 December 2019 in Feature

As 2020 approaches, senior figures from across government reflect on their highlights and challenges of 2019, look ahead to the next 12 months and share their favourite festive memories. Civil service chief executive John Manzoni kicks off our Whitehall roundup

John Manzoni addresses GDS

hat was your highlight of 2019?

Watching the civil service step up to the task with EU-exit preparations, while maintaining “normal service” at a time of extraordinary political complexity and uncertainty. The civil service deserves to be proud of how we responded with dedication, resilience, and (generally) good humour. 

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?

Across the civil service we have reoriented to a new government team, with a substantial increase to our EU-exit preparations. Within the Cabinet Office there has been significant change as we incorporated the Government Equalities Office, established the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, restructured the secretariats, and welcomed several new ministers. The pre-election period maintained a very fast pace right through the year-end – so it was a good job the entire system was running fast all year!

What will be the biggest challenge of 2020 – and how are you preparing to meet it?

"The civil service deserves to be proud of how we responded with dedication, resilience, and (generally) good humour"

I think next year’s biggest challenge will be lifting our collective heads to look beyond EU exit and focus on the future – both for the civil service and the nation, too. But that’s also an enormous opportunity. We need to think more about how we organise and how we operate, to respond to some of those big, strategic issues that require a whole-of-government response, from criminal-justice reform, to education and healthcare, in the same way we’ve organised around EU exit. While in other areas, like energy, electric vehicles, and machine learning, there’s enormous opportunity here for us to lead the way internationally, too.

Tell us a favourite festive memory from your youth...

It will have to be finding the sixpence buried in the Christmas pudding. Somehow it was always us younger children who managed it… 

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