Defra's permanent secretary Clare Moriarty on her first impressions of the department – and her plans for 2016

Written by Civil Service World on 15 December 2015 in Interview
Interview

With the end of 2015 in sight, we asked Whitehall's top officials to review the year, set out their priorities for 2016 – and shed some light on their festive plans. Clare Moriarty, permanent secretary of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), takes part in our biggest-ever perm secs round-up series...

What are your early impressions of Defra?
Since arriving in Defra in August I’ve been continually struck by the variety of our business and the passion and commitment of people who work here, across the core department and our many delivery bodies. We deal with really big issues that affect everyone, and that evoke strong reactions. If you neglect the environment you won’t have a strong economy, and if you neglect the economy you won’t be able to protect the environment. People in Defra are very much aware of that duality and constantly looking for ways to support growth and conservation. I’m very impressed by Defra’s commitment to innovation – particularly using data to drive solutions – and our capability to handle emergencies from floods to avian flu. 

What are your department’s top priorities in the year ahead?
We have an ambitious agenda for the parliament and it starts right now. We have committed to release 8,000 data sets by May 2016 and publish the framework for a 25-year environment plan in early 2016, with the full plan due by the end of the year. Next year is the Year of British Food and there will be a series of events backed by a Food is GREAT campaign. We will begin planting 11 million trees and will prepare for the UK Presidency of the EU in 2017. We are also embarking on a bold programme of organisational reform. As part of the Spending Review we thought about the kind of department we need to be: leaner, more effective and more strategic, working to a single plan and focused on delivering our priorities. Implementing that is a top priority for me. And our future organisation must be somewhere that people want to work – my personal goal is that everyone feels heard, valued and respected.

What film do you hope to watch over the festive period – and what’s the best game to play with the family on Christmas Day?
I’m stacking up films I’d like to see, including Spectre, Suffragette and Brooklyn. On Christmas Day we’ll probably end up watching my daughters’ choice, Harry Potter. We’re a keen card-playing family so I suspect Christmas Day won’t pass without a game of cribbage – it’s great for mental arithmetic. There is a parlour game called “Are you there, Moriarty?” but I’ve never played it. Apparently it resembles a blindfold duel using rolled-up newspapers. I might leave that for another year.


Perm secs round-up 2015: Whitehall's top civil servants review the year – and look ahead to 2016

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