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. Sir Robert Devereux, permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, takes part in our annual perm secs round-up...
Department for Work and Pensions permanent secretary Sir Robert Devereux, photographed by Photoshot
What was your highlight of 2016?
Achieving yet more milestones on the government’s programme of welfare reform, and – in turn – better-supporting the 22 million citizens we serve. This year we finished rolling out Universal Credit for single unemployed claimants to every Jobcentre in Great Britain, with further evidence this flagship reform helps more people into work more quickly. We have seen record employment rates. We have successfully launched the new state pension and nearly seven million people are now automatically enrolled in a workplace pension. The number of separated parents making their own payment arrangements, based on our calculations, remains substantially ahead of our forecasts.
"Along with all my colleagues, we have a lot to do on delivering Brexit"
What has been the most significant change in your department this year?
We have negotiated contractual changes for over 60,000 colleagues, working with them and their trades unions, to extend the hours we can serve our customers later into the evening and on Saturdays. We have also nearly completed the largest current estate deal in the UK, replacing a 20-year-old contract with more flexible arrangements that provide the right amount of space in the right locations for our people. I am also proud of the national progress with the Disability Confident scheme which helps employers recruit a more diverse workforce. Lastly, I am delighted that our five year programme to develop great leaders at all levels of our organisation has been reflected in this year’s People Survey engagement score. This has risen for the fifth year running and now stands at 61%, which is up an extraordinary 16 percentage points since 2011.
What will be the biggest challenge of 2017 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
Along with all my colleagues, we have a lot to do on delivering Brexit. The government also has a demanding target to reduce the disability employment gap. I am pleased we have already published the Work, Health and Disability green paper jointly with the Department of Health, consulting on a number of new ways to address this challenge. Lastly there is more to deliver on the existing programme of welfare reform. In all of this I am confident that the motivated workforce we have created is up for the challenges ahead.
What was the best Christmas present that you’ve ever given or received? And the worst?
A remote controlled helicopter with water pistol attachment was probably the best present for my nephew, but the worst for his siblings.
More: Perm secs round-up 2016 – Britain's top civil servants review the year and look ahead to 2017