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. Dr Malcolm McKibbin, Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, takes part in our biggest-ever perm secs' round-up series...
How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2015?
This year has probably been the most difficult since my appointment to this post. We started the year with optimism having secured political endorsement for the Stormont House Agreement. However it quickly became apparent that there were some intractable issues around welfare reform that threatened the stability of the devolved institutions and we were in danger of running out of money! At the same time, due to the financial pressures and the need to reduce the paybill we have been managing a voluntary exit scheme which will contribute to an unprecedented reduction of 16% over two years. All of this has required strong leadership, rigorous programme management and a relentless focus on resolution and finding a way through, both administratively and politically. No-one involved would say it has been easy. However following 10 weeks of talks, the Fresh Start Agreement was published on 17 November and I am now looking forward to a Christmas free of political negotiations for the first time in three years!
What are your department’s top priorities in the year ahead?
A Fresh Start commits us to tackling paramilitary activity and organised crime in Northern Ireland. It also puts our finances on a more sustainable footing, paves the way for the introduction of welfare reform and sets a date for the introduction of a reduced rate of corporation tax. Implementation is now a key priority as well as seeking resolution on some outstanding sensitive issues from our past. In the context of sustainable finances and the Spending Review we will continue to deliver a major programme of reform designed to maximise available resources and deliver enhanced public services. This includes, amongst other things, the restructuring of government as we reduce the number of civil service departments. We will also be supporting the Executive to develop an outcomes-based Programme for Government following the Assembly elections in May 2016.
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?
Love Actually has to be up there as an all time favourite which has something for everyone. I especially enjoy Hugh Grant making a complete idiot of himself to the soundtrack “Jump”. After dinner I look forward to a good Game of Thrones board game – being a civil engineer, the complex rules always show me in my best light!
Perm secs round-up 2015: Whitehall's top civil servants review the year – and look ahead to 2016