‘One of the hardest things has been to retain a sense of community’: GIAA chief Elizabeth Honer on 2020

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
Government Internal Audit Agency chief Elizabeth Honer

By Civil Service World

14 Dec 2020

 

What are you proudest of government achieving in 2020?

Everyone has had a difficult year and our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones through these past months. We in the Government Internal Audit Agency have been supporting those developing and implementing the response on behalf of the government, through our audit and counter fraud work. Again and again we have seen staff at all levels work tirelessly at pace to develop new financial packages, new processes, new ways of working in support of our communities. We have seen departments being swift to reset business priorities, redeploy staff, implement new technologies and manage new risks, and work across traditional boundaries. This has unlocked innovation in weeks which under usual circumstances would take months if not years. We can be proud of that and of the civil service wide response to the pandemic.  Across government we are looking to harness that spirit once the pandemic has passed.

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

One of the hardest – and most rewarding – parts of being a leader in 2020 has been to retain a sense of community while working remotely. Just like other parts of society, our people have a wide array of personal circumstances which bring their own challenges, whether that was home-schooling early on, caring for elderly relatives, living alone, coping with health conditions, all while doing their utmost to continue to support our citizens. In the GIAA we have focused on providing our people with the flexibility and support they need and re-creating and even building on our sense of community, through CEO webinars, fortnightly checking-in surveys and a focus on wellbeing. Feedback has been strong with a consistent 80%+ of people feeling supported all or most of the time, better enabling them to do the job they are eager to do.

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

The coming year brings fresh challenges as well as opportunities. As we emerge from the pandemic, managing the logistics of vaccines developed in record time, we will need to continue to balance health and the economy. We will be able to turn our attention to achieving the outcomes set out in the Spending Review including those from having exited the EU. As we begin to live more normal lives, we will be developing new hybrid models of working to take the best from both office and virtual working, for the good of our people and our communities.

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

 We started our festive period in the agency with a truly inspiring virtual awards ceremony. We recognised the many ways in which our people have lived our values this year in the work they have done for our customers and for each other. We even dressed up for the occasion! I haven’t yet worked through what my own festive season will look like; my husband and I face the same challenges as others of how to manage seeing our loved ones and keeping them and ourselves safe so we will be working that out over the coming days. Whatever we decide, our Christmas is bound to look very different to what we had planned. We will still do our best to make it special and to make contact virtually with our family members in the UK and Switzerland.

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