As 2020 approaches, senior figures from across government reflect on their highlights and challenges of 2019, look ahead to the next 12 months and share their favourite festive memories
What was your highlight of 2019?
Becoming the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency in September, and joining an organisation so committed to openness, trust and innovation. (Though the intense, fascinating and exhausting run up to a no-deal Brexit in Defra in April comes a close second. I felt proud to be a civil servant.)
What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?
Preparing for Brexit meant the Food Standards Agency expanded its ability to fight food crime, predict new food risks, and scientifically assess new food issues. We stood up our emergency response system several times. But we also increased our focus on allergens following the tragic deaths of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, Owen Carey and others. The FSA board supported a change in the law so that there will be ingredients and allergen labelling on food that has been prepared and sold to consumers from the same premises.
What will be the biggest challenge of 2020 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
Apart from being ready for Brexit, we need to help local authorities to use their scarce resources most effectively when doing inspections, sampling and giving support to food businesses. Food businesses are often national, or online, while the enforcement resource is local. We need to do more to share risk information across the whole system. We have done a lot to build better data analytics and get a unified view of food businesses across the country. It’s the FSA’s 20th anniversary in 2020 and our record on science, evidence and data is a great legacy on which to build.
Tell us a favourite festive memory from your youth...
Going carol singing with my Quaker Meeting. Around 20-30 of us would walk through Reading’s streets on Christmas Eve and call on local Quakers, especially the housebound in their 80s and 90s, raising money for charity. They would invite us in for mince pies and we would sing a few carols for them and their neighbours. I think the parents did it so us children were tired from the walk and would get to sleep quickly.