With the end of 2016 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top officials to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2017 – and shed some light on their festive favourites. Mark Lowcock, permanent secretary of the Department for International Development, takes part in our annual perm secs round-up...
What was your highlight of 2016?
It’s been a funny old year, but we recently reached the first anniversary of Sierra Leone being Ebola-free. This is an inspiring reminder of what the civil service at its best can achieve: committed, adaptable and highly skilled people joining up to contain an epidemic. I’m also pleased by the innovations we are delivering to ensure the most effective humanitarian response possible under difficult circumstances. For example, at the Syria Conference in February we not only raised over $12bn in London – the largest amount ever raised for a humanitarian crisis in one day – but we also pioneered new international deals with the governments of Jordan and Lebanon.
What has been the most significant change in your department this year?
There is a lot to choose from! Development is, over the long term, driven by innovation, technology and science. Priti Patel and Bill Gates last month launched DfID’s new £1.6bn research strategy, which I predict will produce a wave of innovation in tackling tropical diseases, improving agricultural productivity, generating better low carbon energy technologies and joining up social and natural scientists to find solutions to development challenges that go with the grain of human incentives and behaviour.
What will be the biggest challenge of 2017 - and how are you preparing to meet it?
Conflict in the Middle East – and the terrorism, organised crime and migration threats that are entwined with it – will continue to dominate our work. We have quadrupled the money and staff we put into this over the last five years, and are still building our capabilities as the facts on the ground get ever more difficult.
We see a lot of opportunity too, especially in delivering on the prime minister’s “Global Britain” vision – and the exciting challenge for me and my senior colleagues is to corral the amazing capabilities of the 3,000 people who work round the world for DfID, together with colleagues from other parts of government, to make it a reality.
What was the best Christmas present that you’ve ever given or received? And the worst?
I am told that as a two-year-old I was absurdly delighted with a large cardboard box containing a toy car, though not that bothered about the vehicle itself. The worst? I vaguely recall a 4-1 drubbing Man United received at the hands of Tottenham on New Year’s Day 20 years ago.
More: Perm secs round-up 2016 – Britain's top civil servants review the year and look ahead to 2017