By Civil Service World

23 Dec 2015

With the end of 2015 in sight, we asked Whitehall's top officials to review the year, set out their priorities for 2016 – and shed some light on their festive plans. Sir Jeremy Heywood, cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, takes part in our biggest-ever perm secs' round-up series...

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2015?

It’s important to say at the outset how proud I am of the way the civil service has responded to another year of change. The dedication, creativity and indomitable spirit of civil servants across the United Kingdom remains unparalleled.

This year’s general election brought a number of challenges for the civil service. Before the election, we had to make sure we were prepared for whatever outcome it produced, ensuring a smooth transition between governments. After the election, we still had some of the same faces behind the ministerial desks, but the government’s manifesto brought 517 new commitments for this parliament. Once again the civil service has risen to the challenge, continuing with business as usual and implementation of the 149 major projects that are underway, while supporting the government to build a strong foundation for the next five years and beyond.

What are your department’s top priorities in the year ahead?

My three priorities for 2016 are to accelerate our work to make the civil service more digital, more commercially savvy and more diverse.

We will speed up digital transformation across government, as the fast-moving, collaborative approach of the Government Digital Service spreads around the whole of Whitehall.

I want to build on 2015’s success in giving civil servants more of the commercial skills they need. We have seen really innovative approaches, such as the first Massive Open Online Course, run by Civil Service Learning, in contract management. This was so successful we ran it again in November, and I am looking forward to more of the same in 2016.

Finally, we must step up our efforts to ensure the civil service is representative of modern Britain. We have made good progress on improving the gender balance across the service as a whole, but we must do more to increase the number of women in senior leadership positions. And in terms of increasing the numbers of people from minority ethnic backgrounds, LGBT and other under-represented groups, the status quo really isn’t good enough. I will be looking to embed more fully the principles in our Talent Action Plan, and to remove the barriers that prevent civil servants from these groups achieving their potential. 

The impetus for change of this sort must come from the top, and in 2016 I – and everyone in the civil service – will be looking to senior leaders to live out the commitments in our Leadership Statement, to be inspiring, confident and empowering. 

What film do you hope to watch over the festive period – and what’s the best game to play with the family on Christmas Day?

Well, my sons want to see the new Steve Jobs film, but they are still too young! So we’ll have to stick to what’s on TV. Christmas Day will be spent watching my youngest son singing for the Chapel Royal Choir, opening presents, eating, and watching the more practical members of the family (i.e. my wife) assembling the new gadgets delivered by Father Christmas.

Perm secs round-up 2015: Whitehall's top civil servants review the year – and look ahead to 2016

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