With the end of 2015 in sight, we asked Whitehall's top officials to review the year, set out their priorities for 2016 – and shed some light on their festive plans. Graham Farrant, chief executive of the Land Registry, takes part in our biggest-ever perm secs round-up series...
How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2015?
We have had, and continue to have, some big business challenges, including increasing demand in a time of reducing resources. But perhaps the biggest challenge I faced was the disappointing levels of engagement that our people had with the organisation. On one score, in 2014, we were rated 102nd out of 102 civil service organisations! It is very much a work in progress, but I think we have taken some very positive steps forward. The way that I approached the challenge was simply by talking to people, meeting as many of our 4,000 staff, face to face in our 14 offices, as I could, and being accessible, open and honest with them. It sounds simple and obvious, and it is not without its own challenges, but the potential benefits are enormous and well worth some personal sacrifices along the way. In the 2015 survey our scores have improved, but not far enough, so there is still more to be done.
What are your department’s top priorities in the year ahead?
I have mentioned our low levels of engagement, and that is definitely something that remains a top priority for us. In addition to that, another huge priority is the continued delivery of our business strategy, modernising our processes and making our services more easily accessible online. We have some notable successes with our Property Alert and MapSearch products both winning Civil Service Awards, but there is still a long way to go until we have a fully digitised and modern Land Register. We have also completely revised our vision and values to drive more collegiate and modernising behaviours throughout the organisation and we have been working to ensure our objectives are right for Land Registry, for government and the wider economy. We are convinced that they now are, and I am really looking forward to seeing the strategy being delivered.
Another huge priority that we’ve already made great progress with is the Local Land Charges programme, centralising local land charges from over 300 local authorities into a single digital national register. From a reputational perspective there is a great deal at stake for us, but the rewards for Land Registry and for the wider economy are considerable.
In the Autumn Statement the chancellor announced an intention, subject to a value for money test, to consult on options to move the operations of Land Registry to the private sector from 2017. This will mean a change of priority to ensure that we focus sufficient management and leadership resources on the process, but more importantly, it gives a greater focus on the need to communicate clearly with our staff and to take them with us on the investigation and transition if it happens. In the meantime, we must focus on the day job: providing excellent customer services, modernising our systems and registering land!
What film do you hope to watch over the festive period – and what’s the best game to play with the family on Christmas Day?
I am not really a film fan, but I like a feel-good movie with some action scenes along the way. No doubt my family will have different ideas, and I will spend lots of time with my wife and daughters relaxing or playing sport – hockey is the family sport and we will probably have a mixed match sometime during the festive season. For me, there is nothing better than to play sport alongside your children, but it is getting increasingly difficult to match their fitness and talent!
Perm secs round-up 2015: Whitehall's top civil servants review the year – and look ahead to 2016