By Civil Service World

22 Dec 2017

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

What are you most proud of achieving in 2017?

I’m immeasurably proud of what the Defra group has achieved in 2017 in so many areas: from avian flu to air quality, farm visits to flood defences, licensing to legislation. And all in an ever-changing environment as we prepare for EU exit. At a personal level I’m proud to have nurtured the team that delivered the first ever unconference for the Civil Service Leadership Group. #Reimagine2017 brought together top civil service leaders with people from inside and outside government who are passionate about making a difference, for a day full of energy and ideas. Don’t know what an unconference is?  Find out here.

What was your most difficult decision in 2017?

I like the Andy Murray principle of decision-making: the longer he left his decision about how to play a return shot, the more information he had and the better the shot would be. But leave it too long and you ball goes straight past you. That feels like quite a good analogy for the challenge we are currently facing in terms of making decisions in conditions of uncertainty. They’re all hard but we have to judge the moment and take them.

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

Our top priority for the next year has got to be the same as it was for this year – delivering a smooth and orderly EU exit. We’ve come a huge way in the last year in turning initial analysis and ideas into concrete programmes. Now it’s all about delivering those programmes alongside our work on negotiation and legislation – and not forgetting important devolution considerations. I’m fortunate to have a fantastic team on the case, which spans the whole Defra group.

For you, no Christmas holiday is complete without...

Lacing up my boots and going for a good walk. I will be spending time over Christmas in two places that I love. Both are protected landscapes: the ancient woodlands of the Ashford Hangers in Hampshire and the peat bogs of Connemara in the west of Ireland. I’m extremely lucky that my job and my leisure interests coincide, and through working in Defra I’ve learnt so much about why conserving these landscapes matters for nature and indeed the future of the planet.

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