Net zero, a new supercomputer, COP26 and a Met Office restructure: Prof Penelope Endersby looks ahead to 2021

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
Met Office chief executive Prof Penelope Endersby

By Civil Service World

22 Dec 2020


What are you proudest of your agency achieving in 2020?

Everything! We have surprised ourselves with how seamlessly we virtualised following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. We were prepared to prioritise critical-to-life services, along with staff wellbeing, but we have delivered all those and continued to build our scientific and technical capabilities.

We have also improved our leadership and diversity and even taken our virtual part as leaders in international weather and climate organisations and providers of capacity support to developing nations. Some things such as remote shift working and leadership briefings by video with social media Q&A will certainly be part of our future normal.

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

It was the shock of the first couple of weeks of lockdown, where there were so many unprecedented questions which escalated to me for answers. When I was appointed to this job, a fellow chief executive at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy kindly offered that I could call any time if I encountered anything which I really didn’t know how to handle.

I didn’t need to take him up on this during my first 18 months in post, but I did reach out early in the first lockdown, and in the end, five arm’s-length body chief execs formed a small self-help group to check in and work out how we were handling the challenges we were facing early on. It was a great source of practical and emotional support for us all.

What are the main challenges facing your organisation in the coming year?

2021 looks to be a busy year for the Met Office. Rebounding from the impacts of Covid-19, we need to finalise a realistic roadmap to meet our net-zero ambitions for 2050. This is likely to require changes to our buildings, travel and even more changes to how we work, and I am sure incorporating the experience gained from 2020 will help us meet the scale of the considerable challenge ahead.

"Five arm’s-length body chief execs formed a self-help group to work out how we were handling the challenges we were facing early on"

COP26 is being held in Glasgow at the end of 2021 and we will be doing all we can to support the government’s effort to raise awareness and ambition around the world to tackle global climate change in the run up to this pivotal climate event.

Closer to home, we should be working with a newly-appointed supplier on our new supercomputer, which will provide a huge leap forward in our capabilities, but only if we make a good job of the associated work on our models, data platforms and customer data offerings. Also we delayed an organisational restructure at the start of Covid, but are now pressing forward and we should have embedded our new ways of working by March.

We also expect that we will be transitioning to a post-Covid normal during the year so we need to capture the best of what we have learned during the pandemic, while joyfully embracing the things we have most missed and can now do again.

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

I’m lucky that I expect to have my children home from university so we’ll have at least that family celebration to look forward to. I hope we will be able to attend Exeter Cathedral, and perhaps to sing as part of their voluntary choir. Not singing has been one of the hardest bits of 2020 for me.

We made our cake, pudding and so on early, and they are all scaled to our usual big family Christmas, so I expect to be posting goodies to relatives we can’t meet this year. I expect we will check in by screen, but it’s face to face which is more special than ever after far too many camera calls on a myriad of platforms. We hope to meet for a walk and exchange of presents with elderly relatives even if they don’t come and stay this year.

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