Welsh government perm sec Dame Shan Morgan on adapting to the 'new normal'

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

"I can’t count the number of times in my career when I’ve wished I had a real magic wand." Photo: Eugene Peretz via Flickr

What was your highlight of 2019?

It’s hard to pick just one highlight but I think I’d single out the lunch I hosted for former Australian premier Julia Gillard with a group of women leaders from across the Welsh public service. I chaired a discussion about how to get more women into leadership roles in the public sector – it was a really uplifting event, not least seeing so many talented and influential women round the table. Everyone left feeling energised about the future and keen to make a difference. Julia Gillard, incidentally, was born down the road in Barry – now famous as the location for the hilarious Gavin and Stacey.

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

Undoubtedly, the changes flowing from Brexit preparations have had the biggest impact. With a relatively small, time-limited increase in our resource budget, we’ve had to be creative about deploying staff to Brexit priority areas. We’ve reprioritised ruthlessly, created a new Brexit talent programme, and taken on some brilliant temporary staff and interns. At the same time, we’ve responded enthusiastically to the different priorities and leadership style of our new first minister and cabinet, who came in with a very progressive set of proposals for improving public services in Wales. So it’s been a year of significant change all round.

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

"Moving as smoothly and successfully as possible to the “new normal” will be the top challenge for 2020"

I think we’re all facing the same big challenge in 2020 – how to prepare for and make a success of the “new normal” after the UK leaves the European Union. I have great confidence in the commitment and initiative of Welsh Government staff, who have been hugely impressive throughout all our preparations for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. We have rigorous communications and decision-making structures in place. We’re building ever closer relations with Whitehall colleagues and with the other devolved administrations, as well as with stakeholders across Wales. And we have comprehensive plans for interventions to support communities and business. But there are still so many unknowns, and it’s clear that leaving the EU will have – and is already having – a major impact on the Welsh economy. So moving as smoothly and successfully as possible to the “new normal” will be the top challenge for 2020.

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

One Christmas, when I was very small, my mum asked me what I wanted as my Christmas present. Apparently, I told her that all I wanted was a magic wand. She duly scoured the shops for this popular new toy but couldn’t find one. It was a bad Christmas that year. I’m told I didn’t hide my disappointment when I was given something else. And it gradually dawned on my mum that what I’d expected was a real magic wand, not a toy. She does remind me of the incident at this time of year. And I can’t count the number of times in my career when I’ve wished I had a real magic wand! 

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Eugene Peretz via Flickr
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