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. Philip Rutnam, permanent secretary at the Department for Transport takes part in our biggest-ever perm secs round-up series...
How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2015?
One of our biggest challenges was Network Rail’s electrification programme running late and seriously over-budget. The challenge was made more acute by the fact that at the same time Network Rail was reclassified to the public sector. So we had a huge amount at stake as both client and (in effect) shareholder.
The first step was to get recognition for the seriousness of the problem. Once that was clear, we were able to take decisive and targeted action. We strengthened governance, appointing a new chair and special director to the company’s board. We reset the programme, to make it more deliverable. And we sharpened accountability for future delivery, here and in NR.
What are your department’s top priorities in the year ahead?
Our top priority is delivering a transport system that supports economic growth and keeps Britain moving. We have huge investment and commercial programmes in DfT – and it’s not just high speed rail, but also national roads, local transport, and national rail, as well as digital and service transformation. At the same time we have to keep the networks operating safely and reliably – and to enable the private sector to invest in ports and airports. To do all the above, we need the skills, capability and motivation to succeed in DfT and right across the transport sector.
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’ll probably try to see Spectre again – really liked it the first time: locations, evil villain, lots of gadgets, action and a pretty car; what’s not to like! Our family game is Racing Demon, a card game that lives up to its name with fast-paced play and a deck of cards per-player. It’s all about speed and not getting stuck on the demon.
Perm secs round-up 2015: Whitehall's top civil servants review the year – and look ahead to 2016