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 Jeremy Heywood, cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, takes part in our annual perm secs round-up...
What was your highlight of 2016?
This year has been the Cabinet Office’s centenary year, and it has been an extraordinary year for the country. So picking one highlight from so many standout moments is very hard. The EU negotiations and referendum campaign clearly stand out. But, for any cabinet secretary, helping to ensure a smooth change of government has to be the top priority and was our biggest achievement of the year. I’m immensely proud of the way the civil service was a force for stability and continuity over the summer. The calm professionalism on display once again highlights the integrity, the commitment and the talent that makes our civil service such a special organisation.
What has been the most significant change in the civil service this year
It’s not unique to 2016, but we’ve made a real push to put diversity at the forefront of the civil service. Promoting diversity is crucial to making the civil service a better reflection of the society we serve, and is key to us fulfilling our aim to be the most inclusive employer in the country. The recent Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion Awards were a celebration of how far we have come, but there remains a lot more to do to reach our destination. We’re also continuing our efforts to build commercial skills across government. Great commercial skills are vital to maximising value on the goods and services we buy, which leads to better services and more savings for taxpayers.
What will be the biggest challenge of 2017 - and how are you preparing to meet it?
In a word – Brexit. Brexit brings a whole host of opportunities that we must be ready to exploit, but we must get the transition right and all departments will have a key role to play. Setting up and mobilising the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade have both been a crucial start, and I am proud of the way that both departments have handled their first few months. However we all have an obligation to make this a success. It is my job to build analytical and negotiating capabilities across the civil service, and to challenge departments to provide the best possible advice for negotiations.
What was the best Christmas present that you’ve ever given or received? And the worst?
Nothing quite matches the pure undiluted joy of seeing one’s children’s rapture when their complicated “Santa lists” have miraculously been delivered to the letter. And worst? Well it definitely wasn’t the worst present, but last year’s expensive drone did not last long!
More: Perm secs round-up 2016 – Britain's top civil servants review the year and look ahead to 2017