Going, going, gong: Five minutes with King's birthday honours recipient James Brereton

Former deputy director of Transport Security Operations at the DfT, now in the Home Office, has received an OBE for services to the state funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. CSW meets him
Photo: PA/Alamy

By Civil Service World

25 Aug 2023



What does being recognised in the Birthday Honours List mean to you? 

It has been one of the proudest moments of my life. I am very proud of what my team and I achieved as part of the Operation London Bridge delivery, and to have been recognised in this formal way is a big life moment for me. 

What was your role in the state funeral, and what did that involve?

I ran the Department for Transport crisis management function, the Transport Security Operations Centre (TSOC). A big part of that role was leading the planning for Operation London Bridge over a three-year period and then running the department’s operations centre in the days leading up to and on the day of the state funeral.

I was one of the DfT gold leaders working across the department and, importantly, with the transport sector to ensure we provided the best possible service, allowing people to travel safely and be part of this momentous occasion.

How did you end up in that role?

I spent three years as the head of TSOC, and it was a fantastic job. I had previously worked in Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Justice in various policy and delivery roles. I did a big chunk of time in the MoJ's permanent secretary’s office, which involved a fair amount of situation/crisis management, which I always enjoyed. I think I am naturally drawn to problem-solving-type roles, and crisis management is definitely that!

Apart from receiving this honour, what has been your proudest moment at work?

A really tricky one, as this is my proudest moment by far. However, if I had to choose, it would be working on COP26 in Glasgow and supporting the delivery of the transport plan. A huge number of VVIPs, VIPs and conference attendees arrived and left the country in a very short time (and from a range of locations). Delivering the transport operation, which meant that they arrived and left the conference on time, via their preferred mode of transport, was a big achievement. It was a strong example of collaboration across multiple teams and organisations to deliver a successful event.

What does it take to do your job well?

People often ask what key skills you need to work in crisis management, as it can seem like a bit of a “dark art”. But in truth, it’s the same skills you need to do any other senior leadership role, i.e. adaptability, strong communication and problem-solving.

It is always important to stay calm and be that person who steps back to look at the wider picture. In crisis situations, people want to step in and help solve the issue. But if everyone jumps in and focusses on one aspect of it, sometimes you can miss something.

Tell us one thing we might not know about your job...

Before doing the TSOC role, I had not fully appreciated how critical the transport sector is to all major events or crisis situations. Whatever the situation, DfT is always around the table and has an important part to play.

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