Colleagues rallied round to support the people of Ukraine – but Ajax and rogue birds proved challenging: David Williams on the MoD’s 2022 highs and lows

“This year has shown us the demanding and increasingly uncertain nature of the world we live in,” writes the Ministry of Defence perm sec
Source: Alamy

By CSW staff

22 Dec 2022

What has been your highlight of the last 12 months? 

 Despite the shocking nature of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, I have been really impressed to see how military and civil servants working in MoD have rallied round to ensure strong UK support to the people of Ukraine.

I’d particularly highlight the work of our task force focused on supplying lethal and non-lethal military aid to the Armed Forces of Ukraine (amounting to more than £2bn since the start of the conflict), and more broadly the great efforts of policy, finance, commercial and operations teams, scientists, analysts and project delivery experts across the whole of Defence. An enormous “One Defence” team effort. It has also been a great example of joined up working across government, where our close working with the Cabinet Office, HM Treasury and the FCDO has ensured the UK has fully leant in to support Ukraine, alongside our allies and partners. 

What was your most difficult decision in 2022? 

 The programme to develop the Army’s new armoured fighting vehicle, Ajax, has been challenging and continued to be over the past year, with health and safety issues around noise and vibration. This has meant balancing the capability needs of the Army with the safety of personnel and the commercial framework within which we’re operating, all the while subject to significant media and parliamentary scrutiny. I’m pleased that we have now made good progress on the latest trials. 

“Last year I spent my Christmas break on potential legal challenges around bird management plans, to avoid bird strikes, near RAF airfields. Definitely not a case of turkeys voting for Christmas!”

 What is the biggest challenge facing the MoD in 2023, and how will you meet that challenge as an organisation? 

 We have an important leadership challenge as we try to support our people through the current cost of living pressures whilst maintaining morale and focus on delivering our purpose within Defence - to protect the nation and help it prosper. Doing what we can to support our people is important to me. 

 We’ll also be focusing hard on our culture and how we work together as One Defence and thinking hard about flexibilities within our pay frameworks and wider support offers for our people. 

And personally, as a leader? 

 Prioritisation will be a real focus in 2023. This year has shown us the demanding and increasingly uncertain nature of the world we live in. The purpose of Defence – to protect the UK and help it prosper – has perhaps never been more relevant. So, for me, the focus will be on managing our delivery within the current context of public spending restraint and the high ambition for Defence. Ultimately, this is about ensuring that our servicemen and women are properly supported to do their hugely important and often dangerous roles in this ever-changing global context. 

  It’s not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season? 

As many of CSW’s readers will know, public service does not stop for the holidays and thousands of public servants will continue working tirelessly over the festive season. The Armed Forces and MoD are no exception. This can be due to planned operational activity, or can be sometimes rather more left field.

 Last year I spent my Christmas break working to an end of December deadline on potential legal challenges around bird management plans, to avoid bird strikes, near RAF airfields. Now that was definitely not a case of turkeys voting for Christmas! 


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