With the end of 2017 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top civil servants to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2018 – and tell us what they cannot do Christmas without. Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood kicks off our Whitehall roundup
What are you most proud of achieving in 2017?
It’s been an extraordinary 12 months, full of challenges: from political change and uncertainty, unprecedented counter-terrorist threats, and a constantly shifting foreign policy landscape. And yet the response from and underlying performance of the civil service has been exceptional throughout, capped off with another encouraging set of People Survey results.
We’ve also made good progress this year on the functional agenda, making great strides with the Government Commercial Function in particular, where more than 800 civil servants have now passed through our assessment and development centre. And departments have also made real progress with preparations for Britain’s exit from the EU.
But most importantly, none of this has detracted from our fundamental business of improving the products and services government provides to the citizens of this country, from the Personal Tax Account to new digital-on-demand GP services.
So overall, I’m most proud of our brilliant civil service for succeeding in spite of everything the year has thrown at us!
What was your most difficult decision in 2017?
For the civil service, preparing for a general election and then supporting the new government through its first few days and weeks is always a challenging time. The period just after the 2017 general election was no exception, with the added pressure this time of having to deal with a succession of appalling terrorist incidents and then the heart-breaking tragedy of Grenfell Tower. Through all this our Brexit preparations continue to require some tough calls about resourcing in particular. Otherwise, it’s often the people decisions that are most difficult – on interview panels and with colleagues as part of the leadership team for the civil service.
What are your top priorities in the year ahead?
As well as supporting the whole range of government policies as usual, I’ll be particularly focused on maintaining the momentum of our Brexit negotiations and domestic preparations, and helping ministers to ensure that we make a success of it. In order to do that, we’ll need to ensure that we put the right resources into the negotiations themselves and keep pressing forward with the functional agenda, to sharpen our skills and increase our capacity in key areas like project management, commercial and digital. Beyond that, I want to ensure we properly embed our new Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, and we will be doing even more to highlight and celebrate the very many ways in which we’re a brilliant civil service.
For you, no Christmas holiday is complete without...
A short holiday somewhere warm. For various reasons we were unable to get away this summer for our usual family holiday, so we will be flying off a few days after Christmas for a bit of much-needed winter sun, no doubt with a new array of teen-friendly electronic gadgets, reading material, fitness accessories and other well-chosen Christmas presents.