Sir Mark Sedwill reflects on becoming cabinet secretary, dealing with Brexit and the Brilliant Civil Service in action

Written by Civil Service World on 17 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. Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill kicks off our Whitehall roundup

Photo: Louise Haywood Schiefer

What was your highlight of 2018?

Observing the Brilliant Civil Service in action. This has ranged from the swift, skilful and coordinated teamwork across government and wider public services to the Salisbury attack, to the decisive UK response to chemical weapons use in Syria, to the teamwork and dedication behind our negotiations with the EU.

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

Taking over the cabinet secretary role from Jeremy Heywood. He was an indispensable public servant, who supported several prime ministers through their greatest challenges, and an irreplaceable friend. No one would want to take on any job in such tragic circumstances. But it’s my task as cabinet secretary to help the government navigate the country through Brexit and make a success of our new position in the world, and I’m ready to make my contribution.

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

Making a success of Brexit is top of the list. The civil service will need to prepare for further negotiations on the detail of our future relationship with the EU, be ready to implement it and support ministers to realise the government’s domestic and Global Britain agenda after our exit. We must also continue to deliver exceptional public services for the country, by working not only across departments but across sectors – with the wider public service, the charity sector and private sector – as one team.

“We must continue to deliver exceptional public services for the country, by working not only across departments but across sectors – with the wider public service, the charity sector and private sector – as one team”

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

Nelson Mandela as the most inspiring figure of my lifetime, a man of extraordinary integrity, joy and faith in human nature. And he also knew how to enjoy a party!

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