Home Office perm sec Matthew Rycroft reflects on taking over the department in lockdown

2020 was a year unlike any other, with the coronavirus pandemic upending the work of government and changing how we live our daily lives. Senior figures from across the civil service tell us how the unprecedented 12 months affected them, and look ahead to 2021
Matthew Rycroft, Home Office permanent secretary. Photo: Baldo Sciacca

By Civil Service World

15 Dec 2020


What are you proudest of the Home Office achieving in 2020?

Like every other department, the Home Office in 2020 has been dominated by Covid-19.  I have been really impressed by everyone’s agility. And kindness – supporting each other and looking out for colleagues’ wellbeing and resilience has been even more important this year than usual. 

I have also been proud of how the Home Office has responded to the Windrush scandal. We are determined that nothing like that should happen again, so we are embracing all the lessons from Wendy Williams’ review. Just one example – we now have a Shadow Race Board where 300 volunteers provide challenge and advice. As the new Civil Service Race Champion, I want all our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic colleagues to have opportunities to fulfil their potential.  

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2020?

For me personally, it was starting a new job with almost no notice on the same day that the first lockdown started in March. This meant everything had to be virtual – introductory meetings, briefings and so on, new IT kit, a new team (some of whom I didn’t get to meet in person for a few months!). I have had to accept that some parts of the role just take longer.

What are the main challenges facing the department in the coming year?

I think capturing the opportunities that will come up at the end of the EU transition period is the main one, including reforming our country’s asylum system. And, as always for the Home Office, being aware of and anticipating the threats and risks to our country and the most vulnerable people in our communities.

People will have to be more creative about celebrating this year. How will you make the festive period on Zoom special?

Yes it will be tough not seeing everyone I would normally like to see over the holidays. I can’t imagine Christmas without family games. Fortunately there are some games that work well over Zoom. I would recommend Codenames for anyone who likes word challenges – all three of my daughters enjoy that!


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