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. Robert Devereux, permanent secretary of the Department for Work and Pensions, takes part in our biggest ever perm secs round-up series...
How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2015?
By supporting my 80,000 colleagues to continue to deliver our services professionally, with pride in helping people at some of the most difficult points of their lives. Together, we have made a real difference to millions of citizens across the UK in 2015. Let me record a few examples of the fruit of all their work.
We have record numbers in work, including record numbers of women. Unemployment is practically back to pre-recession levels.
Universal Credit continues to transform people’s lives. It is already available in over 500 Jobcentres (70%), with evidence that those on Universal Credit find work faster, and earn more, than those on the six benefits it replaces.
Perm secs round-up 2015: Whitehall's top civil servants review the year – and look ahead to 2016
Government communications chief Alex Aiken reviews 2015 – and looks ahead to 2016
Spending Review: DWP permanent secretary Robert Devereux "confident" department can get more for less
A radical re-think for public sector transformation
More than five million workers have now been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension, reversing a long term decline in pension saving.
And reforms to child maintenance mean more parents than ever are contributing to the welfare of their children, even when separated. I am proud of colleagues’ hard work to deliver these reforms, while improving day to day services. One example of the latter is the sharp focus we have had on doing things once, and doing them right. As a result, customers call us less often, decisions are made faster, and complaints that we are taking too long are down sharply. The whole system is working much better: improved service for citizens, at reduced cost.
What are your department’s top priorities in the year ahead?
To keep improving our services. Alongside further progress on each of the reforms above, April brings the most significant overhaul of the state pension in decades. The new state pension is much more straightforward, and will help people make the right decisions about saving and preparing for later life.
With colleagues at the Department of Health, we are also embarking on innovative work on mental health that could potentially have a huge impact. A pioneering series of voluntary pilots across the country is showing how better coordinated mental health and employment services could help thousands of people improve their mental health, while finding and staying in work. All these many changes require tens of thousands of colleagues to work differently, and to deliver transformed services. This is a huge leadership challenge, but we are building on four successive years' growth in engagement – now up 12 percentage points since 2011.
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?
With both daughters due home for Christmas, both now with their husbands, maybe Meet the Fockers? And any game that gets us outdoors...