Jayne Brady on 2021's 'testing mix of circumstances' for Northern Ireland and becoming the first female NICS head

2020 may have been a year like no other, but 2021 was a chip off the old block and relentless from day one. The Northern Ireland Civil Service head tells us about 12 more months of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic at the same time as pushing ahead with new challenges
Supporting a five-party coalition Executive is among the unique challenges faced by the NICS this year. Photo: David Stanley/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

By CSW staff

16 Dec 2021


What was your highlight of 2021?

I had the privilege of being appointed as head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service this year. I’m the first woman to be substantively in this post in the history of the NICS. It’s probably an obvious highlight, but I am delighted to be here.

Since taking up post at the beginning of September, I have met a range of colleagues from right across the system. It has been great to have conversations with those working in a range of areas and it has underlined the breadth, diversity and capability of this organisation.

I am grateful to have had the support of all my colleagues at all levels in the NICS. Meeting people, putting a face behind the service, hearing their stories and the work they do and exchanging ideas on how that can be enhanced is always an enriching experience.

On a personal note, it has been a highlight within the service to chair the development of the Executive’s Strategy to Tackle Violence Against Women and Girls and the Equally Safe Strategy, which will identify actions to tackle violent and abusive behaviour directed at women and girls precisely because they are women and girls.

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2021?

The NICS response to the complexities and challenges of the past 20 months has been remarkable. While the pandemic response and the agile development of policy has been front and centre, remote working, resource pressures, supporting a five-party coalition Executive and the unique challenges for Northern Ireland as a direct result of the EU exit have made for a testing mix of circumstances. 

What is your number one priority for 2022?

It is clear to me that there is a real and genuine appetite in the civil service for adopting innovation to transform our services and it’s a key priority to drive this agenda. 

I know that it can be easy to be overcautious in trying new things, particularly when it comes to exploiting technologies or new ways of working. However, moments of disruption, such as we have experienced in recent times, can shine a light on opportunities for fresh thinking, specifically on how we do business and how we can deliver the civil service of the future.

The NICS is a great place to work, to make real impact and to directly shape public services for everyone here in Northern Ireland. 

I want to ensure that we offer an attractive, diverse and inclusive place to work, while spear-heading innovation, agility and partnership to address both the opportunities and challenges ahead. 

Key to this is having the foresight and valour to support the NI Executive in making informed and inspired decisions for our long-term economic growth and prosperity and for the health and wellbeing of everyone here. 

Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?

That’s a fairly wide brief!  So, basically, anyone living or dead, historical or fictional? 

New Year’s Eve is a time for optimism, with a seasoning of nostalgia, it can also be a time of reflection and committing to bold ambitions and missions for the years ahead. 

So to assist me in that regard I would invite renowned economist and author of Mission Economy, Mariana Mazzucato. 

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