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. Department for Culture, Media and Sport permanent secretary Sue Owen, takes part in our biggest-ever perm secs' round-up series...
How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2015?
2015 was an exciting year for DCMS. After the May general election, our ministerial team expanded from three to five, four of whom were new to government, yet all very experienced with their brief.
Secondly, after a series of machinery of government changes, we have responsibility for the whole of the digital economy, digital inclusion, data protection, Information Commissioner and the National Archives. This means DCMS sectors now contribute to 16% of the economy, helping us to achieve our vision of “driving growth and enriching lives”.
My approach to managing significant change is to focus on people and get the leadership right. We’ve made a big effort to ensure our executive team are visible and accessible to staff through more frequent “stand-ups”, observers at executive board meetings who write about their experiences online, and hold Q&As at all-staff away days. The impact of this was reflected in our excellent civil service people survey results – for the second year running we had the biggest gain and are now fourth among Whitehall departments!
As a result, we have some brilliant achievements to record this year. The Superfast broadband programme reached over 3.5 million homes and businesses. The broadband connection voucher scheme delivered vouchers to over 55,000 SMEs and we made a universal service commitment, guaranteeing 2MBs minimum via superfast satellite.
We laid the foundations to deliver the BBC Charter Review with a consultation attracting over 192,000 responses. We convened a major summit on cultural protection following events in Syria. We delivered the biggest Rugby World Cup ever and two moving Gallipoli commemoration events in London and Turkey as part of the WW1 programme. We agreed a new place-based approach to tourism and consulted on a new sports strategy.
What are your department’s top priorities in the year ahead?
2016 and beyond looks pretty busy too! Our top priorities remain delivery planning after the Spending Review and the BBC Royal Charter. It’s a big year for World War One commemorations with events planned in Jutland and the Somme. We will strengthen Ofcom’s role to take action against extremist content; introduce age verification for websites containing pornographic material; provide free Wi-Fi in public libraries; support plans for a great exhibition in the North and oversee a number of tourism measures, including targets to encourage more visitors to travel beyond London and measures to simplify visa issuance.
We will support 5G development in the UK and ensure BDUK’s superfast broadband rollout to 95% of the UK by 2017. We will also continue to invest in mobile infrastructure and support measures to invest in ultrafast broadband.
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?
Despite appearing on the Spectre set, I’ve still not seen it, so that’s my movie. There’ll be 12 of us on Christmas day, ranging from my Mum of 90 to my step-granddaughter of nine. We always play Boticelli – everyone gets a sticker on their forehead, others select a character for that person, write it on the sticker and the person has to guess who they are by asking questions – hours of fun!
Perm secs round-up 2015: Whitehall's top civil servants review the year – and look ahead to 2016