Equality Hub director Marcus Bell on sign language success, a tough ‘media climate’ – and why Slade makes him shudder

"Diminishing resources” will be the Cabinet Office Equality Hub's biggest challenge ahead
Deaf actor and Strictly champion Rose Ayling-Ellis has campaigned for BSL to be given legal status in the UK. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

By Civil Service World

19 Dec 2022


What has been your highlight of the last 12 months?   

I lead the Equality Hub in the Cabinet Office, which works with ministers and others to tackle serious inequalities, so we are rather busy! The most high-profile thing we did this year was the successful passage through parliament of the British Sign Language Act, which gives BSL official recognition. This was extremely important to the deaf community. It was great that it was achieved against the background of [Deaf actor and BSL user] Rose Ayling-Ellis’s Strictly triumph, which really helped to raise the profile of the issues with the wider public. 

If I am allowed a second, I would mention the final report on Covid health inequalities we published last December. This was a long-running piece of work looking at how ethnic minorities were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and covered complex issues like mortality rates and vaccine take-up. It won an ONS Research Excellence award for its innovative use of data. It is a good example of what the civil service can do if we are given the time to do it properly. 

What was your most difficult decision in 2022?   

The most difficult decisions are always about staffing and resources, but I hope we have been successful in demonstrating the value of what we do. 

What is the biggest challenge facing your organisation in 2023, and how do you plan to meet that challenge as an organisation?   

Continuing to deliver high-quality work with diminishing resources. We won’t achieve that by just asking people to work harder, so we will need to prioritise work in a smarter way and have honest conversations about what can and can’t be done with what we have. 

“The most difficult decisions are always about staffing and resources, but I hope we have been successful in demonstrating the value of what we do” 

And personally, as a leader?   

Keeping staff motivated by showing them I value and appreciate everything they are doing.   What I am going to call the media climate around the civil service has made this harder over the past year, but that makes it even more important to do it. 

It's not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season?    

When I was a teenager, I used to work over Christmas in Bejam, the now-extinct frozen-food chain. My job was to price up goods using a price gun.  We had a single tape of Christmas music, which played through the store’s PA system many times a day on a loop and which has left me with a lifelong aversion to Slade. 


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