Permanent record: revisiting 2008’s perm sec roundup

Written by Richard Johnstone on 6 March 2019 in Feature
Feature

Every year, CSW asks permanent secretaries to reflect on the highs and lows of the last 12 months, and to share what they’re bracing themselves for in the next 12. As part of CSW’s 15 year celebrations, we dug out the first version, from the December 2008 issue of WWW, to see how times have changed in the departments

Photo: Peter Ricketts, Moira Wallace, Jonathan Stephens and Brian Bender

Some topics have become recurring motifs in our perm secs’ roundup – leadership and skills featured heavily in December 2008, and have re-emerged every year since. By contrast, only one department head mentioned efficiency as a major theme. Needless to say, there has been a marked change in the intervening decade. And while Brexit dominated 2018’s submissions, 10 years ago it was merely a twinkle in Eurosceptics’ eyes.

Two themes dominated 2008: organisational change – new departments in particular – and the credit crunch and ensuing financial crisis. Climate change also featured prominently, with four perm secs naming it as a key policy objective. Here are some of their reflections from that year.

Moira Wallace, DECC

The Department of Energy and Climate Change is at the forefront of many of the most pressing issues facing the UK: ensuring a secure and affordable energy supply, combating climate change and making the transition to a low-carbon economy.

We have some significant policy milestones coming up in the next year, including setting the first national carbon budgets, driving a step change in energy efficiency, and setting out the government’s overarching climate change and energy strategy.


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Sir Peter Ricketts, Foreign Office

On the policy front we need to keep the focus on our strategic objectives, dealing effectively with crises and conflict (on which we lead the Whitehall public service agreement) and making the most of the opportunities (the Obama administration, the Copenhagen climate change conference) while minimising the risks (conflict, terrorism, proliferation, the economic crisis turning the world away from open markets). And in the afternoons... one personal aim will be to speed up the cultural shift in the FCO towards a more flexible, inclusive organisation in which all our staff, including those hired locally by our embassies, feel part of one team.

Jonathan Stephens, DCMS

A key priority for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport next year will be maintaining vibrancy in our sectors despite the economic downturn. Across government we will have to develop innovative and creative ways to combat the downturn. Increasingly, this will involve doing more with less. Two of our highest priority programmes will continue to be delivering the Olympic Games and digital switchover, both of which – I am pleased to say – are on well on track.

Sir Brian Bender, BERR

For the Department for Business, Energy and Regulatory Reform, as for so many others, this year’s biggest challenge has been dealing with the impact of the global financial crisis on the economy. BERR has needed to understand and monitor what is happening, and to work with others in central government and the regional development agencies to help businesses and their employees.

We’re focusing on the things business have told us are top priority: access to finance, cash flow and staff training. This is as well as pursuing our other policies such as simplifying business support and cutting red tape. 

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