NICS chief David Sterling on using renewable heat inquiry as a force for change, and why Captain Pugwash’s Tom the cabin boy is the patron saint of civil servants

Written by Civil Service World on 18 December 2018 in Feature
Feature

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.

David Sterling (right) at the Belfast Pride march

What was your highlight of 2018?

In a tough year I am pleased we’re well on the way to making the NI Civil Service more diverse and a great place to work. Amongst many positive developments, the one that stands out was leading the NICS contingent in the Belfast Pride parade. This was the first time we had taken part and it was welcomed as a very visible sign of our commitment to our LGBT colleagues and to making the NICS a place where everyone can feel comfortable and valued.

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2018?

Navigating the NICS through many unusual challenges under intense media scrutiny. As a witness to the Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry I am especially conscious of the need to use the inquiry report – which will be published next year, and which I expect to be hard-hitting – as a positive force for change across the organisation.

What are the main challenges facing your organisation in the coming year?

It’s hard to know where to start! We continue to face major financial constraints across all our public services with acute pressures in our health and social services and in our schools. At the time of writing the UK faces a real risk of a disorderly exit from the EU which would create huge social, economic and political problems given our land border with the Republic of Ireland. Even if a deal is reached, longer term uncertainty seems likely to have a dampening effect on the NI economy and a destabilising impact on our politics. And not forgetting that by the end of January 2019 we will have been two years without a functioning Executive and ministerial direction, which will be worth several PhD theses someday. Apart from that, it’s business as usual!

Which celebrity or historical figure would you choose to turn on the Christmas lights in your town, and why?

Tom the cabin boy from the Captain Pugwash cartoon. Older readers will remember that Captain Pugwash led a group of hapless pirates who were forever getting into scrapes. Tom was resourceful and intelligent and always had a plan to save the day. But he never got any credit for his ingenuity and every episode ended with the line “and Tom the cabin boy said nothing”. He should be the patron saint of the civil service.

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