Government comms chief Alex Aiken reviews 2016 and looks ahead to the new year

Written by Civil Service World on 2 December 2016 in Interview

With the end of 2016 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top civil servants to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2017 – and shed some light on their festive favourites. Government communications executive director Alex Aiken takes part in our annual perm secs round-up​

What was your highlight of 2016?
An important part of the government’s agenda is to create a democracy that works for everyone. I’ve seen some brilliant communication campaigns in 2016 from Public Health England’s “Sugar Smart” to the “Get In, Go Far” apprentice recruitment initiative. But the combined effort of government departments, agencies and civil society bodies to successfully boost the UK electorate in 2016 was the highlight of my year. 

An additional two million voters joined the register and Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore will continue the campaign in 2017. This campaign has worked because we’ve operated together with a range of organisations, from local authorities to groups like Bite the Ballot and UpRising, and tech giants like Snapchat to encourage people to register to vote. 

What has been the most significant change in your service this year?
Theresa May’s new government required a focus on new priorities and a new approach to communications. I believe that the Government Communication Service is meeting the challenges, reflecting the prime minister’s priorities in our campaigns, amplifying the message of a country that works for everyone and supporting the implementation of flagship policies in housing, industrial strategy and education.

"Theresa May’s new government required a focus on new priorities and a new approach to communications"

What will be the biggest challenge of 2017 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
The start of negotiations to leave the European Union will evidently be the headline issue for the new year, and we will work across government to ensure that policy development and communications work together. Alongside that issue, our professional improvement programme, the delivery of our major campaigns, and the work we undertake to support Britain’s global role through the “GREAT” campaign are our priorities. 

Within the civil service, the drive to ensure that we provide brilliant public service, and – with our HR and policy and operational colleagues – showing how a focus on outcomes, new skills and leadership can improve our work, will be the priority, culminating in Civil Service Live next summer.

What was the best Christmas present that you’ve ever given or received? 
Having the family – three generations together at Christmas - must outweigh any specific gift, though we are pretty good at choosing things for one another. We love books, so history for me, crime novels for my wife and the latest fantasy adventure for the children usually goes down well.

More: Perm secs round-up 2016 – Britain's top civil servants review the year and look ahead to 2017

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