By Civil Service World

24 Dec 2019

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


What was your highlight of 2019?

This has to be our work on net zero. BEIS is the department that led the UK to become the first major economy to commit in law to net zero, requiring the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, ending its contribution to global warming. There was some concern at the time of our merger in 2016 that the department’s priority on climate action would reduce – the evidence would suggest otherwise! This is also a fantastic collective achievement for the whole of government; we will need to continue to work collaboratively in order to reach this ambitious target. Since 1990, the UK has reduced emissions by 42% while growing the economy by 72%, and I am confident that we will continue along this world-leading trajectory, pioneering the way for other countries to follow in our footsteps in driving prosperity by seizing the economic opportunities of becoming a greener economy. This is incredibly exciting and motivating for me.

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

We welcomed a new ministerial team in July, like many other departments. This was a real gear-change for the department, with a challenging new daily rhythm for no-deal preparations and a refreshed set of priorities. I’m proud of how the organisation rose to the challenge, providing quality and evidence-based briefing for the new ministers, and achieving so much in the “first 100 days”.

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

"The civil service is world-class at responding to emergencies and dealing with urgent issues, but we don’t always apportion enough time to tackle these long-term challenges"

Whilst we continue to face uncertainty on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, there are several significant challenges we face regardless of the Brexit outcome: tackling climate change, improving UK productivity and building workplaces fit for the 21st century. The civil service is world-class at responding to emergencies and dealing with urgent issues, but we don’t always apportion enough time to tackle these long-term challenges. I’m trying to encourage us to do just this – regardless of who is in administration in 2020 – by carving out time with my senior team to think about these long-term challenges and how we might be able to address them as good custodians. 

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

Growing up as teenagers in rural Somerset, my brothers and I could not afford to be overly choosy about Christmas jobs. Harvesting and selling mistletoe was fun but not very remunerative, clearing out the rat-infested potato loft was neither of the above. So when Dan and I got hired to work in a packing shed we thought Christmas had come early. The job could not have been more straightforward, wrapping just two combinations of goodies as corporate gifts: champagne and chocolate; port and stilton. Unfortunately, a few days of this repetitive work made my mind begin to wander and the second time they had to restart the production line after I had wrapped port with chocolates, and champagne with stilton, I was “let go”. Meanwhile my brother had been promoted to temporary foreman, which allowed him to drive around in a forklift and come over all officious. We still like to discuss this over Christmas. 

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