With the end of 2018 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top civil servants to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2019 – and tell us who would turn on their town’s Christmas lights
Singing from the same hymn sheet: Civil service choir Etcetera
What was your highlight of 2018?
Far too many to mention! Defra has been an absolute powerhouse in 2018 and I’m never going to do justice to our achievements, so I’ll just pick out publishing the 25 year environment plan back in January. More broadly, lots of my highlights were events organised by people acting on their own initiative, from One Team Gov Global to the Suffrage Flag Relay. I’ve really enjoyed working with faith and belief networks and must give a mention to Etcetera, the civil service choir. Singing with the choir at the Menin Gate was a personal highlight, along with becoming a step-grandmother.
What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2018?
For me, leadership is all about the people, and I’m really conscious that people across the Defra group have been under huge pressure this year. Our EU exit portfolio has continued to expand and accelerate; we’ve motored on plastics, air quality and ivory; and responded to incidents from Salisbury to wildfires to Asian hornets. It’s hard asking people to go the extra mile, knowing how stretched they are. We’re now talking about wellbeing a lot, which is good, and taking active steps to boost it through personal strategies and managing workload, which is better still.
What are the main challenges facing your department in the coming year?
I suppose I’d characterise it as “more of the same, and probably different”. EU exit will undoubtedly continue to preoccupy and challenge us during the year ahead. At the same time we need to be thinking longer term about the future functions of the Defra group, and how best to organise ourselves to deliver them. And then in Defra you never know what life will throw at you next – floods, drought or both. So I suppose the real challenge is to manage our bandwidth to cope with a variety of different scenarios.
Which celebrity or historical figure would you choose to turn on the Christmas lights in your town, and why?
Sir Alec Guinness lived near our local town of Petersfield. He could be relied on to turn on the lights with a flourish, in whichever of his Kind Hearts & Coronets personae he chose to adopt for the evening.