Ministry of Defence permanent secretary Stephen Lovegrove reviews 2016 and looks ahead to the new year
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. Stephen Lovegrove, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defence, kicks off our annual perm secs round-up
What was your highlight of 2016?
This was the year that I moved from the Department for Energy and Climate Change after a very happy and fulfilling three years to the Ministry of Defence – with a weekend in Amsterdam in between. I am going to put all three in the category of highlight. More conventionally, the final approval of the Hinkley Point C project (observed from Defence in the end) was the culmination of many years of work by an incredibly talented – and patient – team right across Whitehall. Terrific.
What has been the most significant change in your department this year?
The MoD has been tackling a substantial programme of change and broader challenges this year. The armed forces have been undertaking a diverse range of operations as part of the government's response to a turbulent international security context. The Chilcot Report highlighted shortcomings in the department's contribution to national security decision- making, which we're working to address. Last year's Strategic Defence and Security Review set out an ambitious mix of new policies and capabilities we are working to deliver. The result of the EU referendum in June will impact less on MoD than some other departments, but we are nonetheless undertaking a thorough review of where defence policy, plans and operational activity will need to be adjusted as we prepare for Brexit.
"I don't expect the operational challenges to abate in the year ahead"
What will be the biggest challenge of 2017 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
I don't expect the operational challenges to abate in the year ahead. We will need to deal with continuing Russian adventurism, volatility in the Middle East and the ever-present threat of international terrorism. As well as remaining internationally-engaged, we will be strengthening our arrangements for the delivery of the successor nuclear submarine programme, encouraging innovation throughout the defence enterprise, contributing to the government's growing focus on prosperity and stronger industrial strategy, and progressing the plans announced in the SDSR to reduce the number of civil servants employed by the MoD.
What was the best Christmas present that you’ve ever given or received? And the worst?
Best was a Scalextric set I got when I was about 10 years old, which gave me a source of enduring advantage over my brother. Worst will be any one of many ill-fitting jumpers – the arms were always too short.
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