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. Stephen Lovegrove, permanent secretary of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), takes part in our biggest-ever perm secs' round-up series...
How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2015?
Election years always present a challenge for government departments. First, preparing for all eventualities, and second, working to bed in new ministers – in our case from a different party – and acting to deliver manifesto commitments. In the Department of Energy and Climate Change we have moved swiftly to do just that.
The Energy Bill before parliament delivers on the Wood Review into the future of the North Sea. It establishes the Oil and Gas Authority as an independent regulator and transfers the powers required to fulfil their principal objective of maximising economic recovery from the UK continental shelf.
The bill also implements the government’s manifesto commitment to end new subsidies for onshore wind and ensure local people have the final say as part of the planning process. Onshore wind has deployed very successfully to date and we are on course to meet our planned range by 2020. These changes ensure that policy costs that fall on consumer bills are controlled, funding for other less-mature renewables isn’t swallowed up, and we meet our objective of generating 30% of Britain’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Over the last year, we have been acting to ensure that the UK’s future energy mix is diverse and resilient. This includes moving forward with shale gas exploration and the historic deal signed in October during the Chinese state visit for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. The Capacity Market is now up and running, and alongside the balancing measures agreed with Ofgem and National Grid, electricity margins remain manageable. All of this was woven together in the secretary of state’s recent speech on energy policy, which has set the framework from here on in.
This is also a big year for our international efforts to agree a global treaty to limit climate change. This has required a truly cross-government effort to ensure that we approach Paris with the best chance of landing a deal that meets the needs of our own economic and national security, as well as the future of the planet.
What are your department’s top priorities in the year ahead?
Energy security will remain the department’s top priority, and we will be seeking to encourage investment in the nation’s energy infrastructure, particularly in new gas fired power stations and new offshore wind.
The report of the Competition and Markets Authority into the energy markets due in April next year is also likely to drive a new wave of supply market reform and will help the department meet our determination to make sure consumers are treated fairly. We’ll need to make faster progress on decarbonising heat and transport in the future too – those areas will be a real focus with colleagues across Whitehall.
We will also be working hard on the government’s plans to meet the fourth and fifth Carbon Budgets, in line with our responsibilities under the 2008 Climate Change Act.
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?
I have a lamentable weakness for gangster films, shared by no-one in my family, so a solo trip to Johnny Depp’s Black Mass may be on the cards. As for games, it’s got to be the Hat Game, in which you have a minute to get teammates to guess the name of a famous person written on pieces of paper drawn from said hat. The rules during all three rounds of it (describing the famous person first without using proper nouns, secondly using only one word, and thirdly only through mime) will be pedantically enforced.
Perm secs round-up 2015: Whitehall's top civil servants review the year – and look ahead to 2016