Outgoing Northern Ireland Civil Service head Sir Malcolm McKibbin reviews 2016 and looks ahead to the new year

Written by Civil Service World on 19 December 2016 in Interview

With the end of 2016 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top officials to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2017 – and shed some light on their festive favourites. Sir Malcolm McKibbin, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, takes part in our annual perm secs round-up...

What was your highlight of 2016?
The highlight for me this year was receiving my knighthood on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list and my investiture, which was a wonderful family occasion. I also decided to step down from my post, which I announced in mid-September. It has been an honour and a privilege to lead the Northern Ireland civil service through its most radical reform programme in over 40 years so that it is well placed to meet the challenges of the future. It has also been a privilege to work closely with ministers and other politicians during the talks which resulted in the Stormont House and Fresh Start agreements. 

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?
It’s difficult to single out one change. There was a major shift in Northern Ireland politics in May when the two largest political parties formed an executive with an independent justice minister and two smaller parties formed, for the first time, an official opposition. This was a significant departure from the mandatory coalition which was part of the original devolution settlement. As a civil service we completed a major restructuring which realigned functions and reduced the number of departments from 12 to nine. We also reduced the size of the NICS by 4,200 posts (17%) over two years and we completed the first phase of our digital transformation programme whereby over 20 of our largest transactional services are now available online.  

What will be the biggest challenge of 2017 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
On the basis that I will only be around until the end of January my biggest challenge will be helping the executive to agree its programme for government and budget before I go. Then, of course I need to prepare for a new phase of my life which will, depending on what my wife has lined up for me, hopefully be slightly less pressurised! 

What was the best Christmas present that you’ve ever given or received? And the worst? 
My wife and I visited an art gallery in Belfast where I spotted “The Fiddler” by the Irish painter William Cunningham. Rather than buy on impulse we decided to think about it. Imagine my disappointment when I went back a week later to buy it and it had gone. But as it turned out Santa had been into the gallery and bought it for me. So needless to say I was delighted to find it in my stocking on Christmas morning. Which is more than I can say about the ridiculous multi-coloured shirts I used to receive from my well-intentioned in-laws! 

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

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