Permanent Secretary, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Which events or policies have dominated your attention during 2012?
It’s been a very busy year for Defra and our delivery partners, dealing with emergencies including drought, floods and more recently ash die back, on top of the work we planned to do. I’ve been impressed by how quickly and flexibly the department has adapted to the challenges these events have brought. We couldn’t have done it without such a passionate and creative team.
One of the country’s greatest success stories this year was, of course, the Olympics. Defra stepped up to the challenge, making them the greenest and most sustainable Games ever. We also responded quickly when Danny Boyle revealed his plans to use live animals at the opening ceremony. There are good reasons for the old adage about never working with children or animals... but our vets were quickly on the ground to ensure the animals were well looked-after. I was also very proud of the Defra staff who dedicated their spare time to volunteering at the Games, from performing in the ceremonies to being games makers.
We also completed a major reshaping of the department, just in time to welcome three new ministers, including Owen Paterson as secretary of state, following the reshuffle. Handling this transition and our response to the government’s renewed focus on economic growth demonstrates the dedication and flexibility of our people.
How have the shape and capabilities of your department changed during 2012?
The department has become smaller and more agile, so we can respond to the changes around us. We have overhauled our top structure, and have a new focus on delivery and operational efficiency, excellence in international and European work, and a bigger focus on customers. Last year’s focus was getting the structure right. We now need to continue to embed the new ways of working that we’ll all need to demonstrate. And our People Survey results show we need to focus more on leading and engaging staff as we go forward.
Which aspects of the CSRP are most important to your department?
Many of the themes in the CSRP tie in closely with Defra’s change programme and the improvements we are already making. All aspects of the Plan are important, from getting the basics right – better IT, better management information and better management of poor performance – to improving our policy making capability. This is a great opportunity to build on our strengths and address our weaknesses. One example of this was the creation of the Animal Heath and Welfare Board for England, which will build stronger partnership between government and the farming industry in order to improve animal health and welfare, and reduce costs. We are keen to be digital leaders using “digital by default” across our work – whether that means moving to
gov.uk, or improving our operational business in a way which makes life easier for our customers and for us.
What are your main challenges for 2013?
Looking ahead at 2013, Defra faces some tough challenges. We must continue to be flexible and find innovative ways of responding. There are things we can plan for and things we cannot – the world we live in is an unpredictable place. If we build on our winning combination of passion, skills and commitment, then working together as one team we can meet the challenges that next year will bring.
Tell your colleagues a good Christmas joke
Here is a classic of the genre:
What is the best Xmas present in the world?
A broken drum, you just can’t beat it!