The Queue and the Commonwealth Games: Sarah Healey on DCMS's proud moments in a 'difficult year for the civil service'

As she wishes for a "precendented" year, the DCMS perm sec sets out the importance of valuing staff
The Platinum Jubilee was another "moment of joy" for DCMS in 2022. Photo: Alamy

By Civil Service World

04 Jan 2023


What has been your highlight of the last 12 months?

We’re getting quite used to saying each year is "unprecedented" – I’m quite looking forward to a year which is "precedented"! 2022 will be remembered abroad for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine’s brave defence and at home for political volatility and change.

As permanent secretary at DCMS, for me it was also a year in which my department was responsible for moments of both joy and pride in our nation. From the Commonwealth Games to the Platinum Jubilee and the queue for the Queen’s lying-in-state, DCMS did what was intended in bringing people across the nation and the world together. Running big events is risky and difficult but hugely rewarding when they work. I was especially proud of the contribution made by so many civil servants from DCMS and other departments acting as marshals to ensure people could queue safely for many hours.

What was your most difficult decision in 2022?

More than 250,000 people queued to see the Queen lying-in-state and The Queue and queue tracker made headlines around the world. Happily, it was not actually my decision when the queue closed as this had to be an operational matter assisted by analysts calculating the optimum time to ensure as many people as possible could view the lying-in-state. However, I have to admit that it was the decision which, as SRO for the government’s contribution to organising London Bridge, interrupted my sleep the most during a period when there wasn’t much sleep anyway. The moment when the last member of the public filed through at 6.30am was one I will never forget.

What is the biggest challenge facing DCMS in 2023, and how are you preparing to meet that challenge as an organisation?

Last year was a difficult one for the public but also for the civil service. Senior leaders in every department are looking at how they can make their staff feel properly valued and help them to develop and grow. As chair of the Civil Service People Board I take my responsibilities on this very seriously and am working with my permanent secretary colleagues on how we can do this better. Obviously, I am really proud that the people in DCMS made us the joint most engaged government department, but I am not complacent about the issues we need also to address.

"When to close The Quene was the decision which interrupted my sleep the most during a period when there wasn’t much sleep anyway"

And personally, as a leader?

We have a huge amount of work to do this year. DCMS’s largest ever legislative programme, continuing the rollout of gigabit broadband to drive growth, leading the government’s contribution to the coronation of His Majesty the King. (And a small musical event in Liverpool in May). I want us to pursue all this with the energy and commitment we showed last year but also prioritising people’s wellbeing so they can perform at their best. I really, really want to ensure I keep that front of mind as we go through the challenges of the next year.

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