By CivilServiceWorld

19 Dec 2012

Dr Malcolm McKibbin

Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service

Which events or policies have dominated your attention during 2012?

The single most important issue for me this year was the publication of the Executive’s Programme for Government, designed to move Northern Ireland irreversibly towards a better future. My priority has been ensuring departments know that delivery of the 82 commitments is our raison d’etre and is what we, as an administration, will be ultimately judged on. I have also tried to ensure we have the processes in place to robustly monitor progress and to take remedial action when appropriate. The downturn remains a dominant factor, and the Executive has responded by announcing a £200m economy and jobs package to boost the local economy. In terms of achievement, I am proud of the way senior staff worked together and supported their ministers in developing such an important initiative.

How have the shape and capabilities of your department changed during 2012?

The future shape of the Northern Ireland devolved administration is currently being reviewed. Our Permanent Secretaries Group has been developing options for a reduced number of departments, including how different functions might be brigaded. I have also been focusing on different aspects of capability because we need to be more solution-oriented and innovative. I believe with the right training, aptitude and mind-set anyone can innovate; but too often, we seem to be held back by a fear of failure or risk-taking. We are therefore striving to improve our innovative capability through masterclasses, training and ‘task and finish’ groups.

Which aspects of the CSRP are most important to your department?

An immediate priority is implementing policy and delivering projects – which means we have to remove barriers to implementation and reduce bureaucracy. Issues such as gaining project approvals, protracted and complex procurement, and the planning processes can be major barriers so we are engaging with industry and businesses to address these difficult issues.

What are your main challenges for 2013?

Delivering on our Programme for Government commitments and supporting the Executive’s jobs and economy initiative with reducing resources will be challenging. The strategic financial outlook is especially tough, with additional cost pressure associated with the potential devolution of corporation tax, alternative project financing arrangements and the next round of Comprehensive Spending Review resource cuts. It is therefore all the more important to remove barriers to implementation, to encourage innovation, to exploit technology and to work constructively with others.

Tell your colleagues a Christmas joke?

Scientists at Bombardier built a gun to launch dead chickens at the windshields of aeroplanes. The aim was to simulate incidents of collisions with airborne fowl to test the strength of windshields. Americans heard of this specially designed gun, and wanted to use it to test windshields on their new high-speed trains. Bombardier sent its gun to the American engineers. During the American test, they fired the chicken. It smashed through the windshield, blasted through the control panel and through several carriages. Horrified Americans immediately forwarded all test results to Bombardier for advice. The response from Bombardier was one line: “Defrost the chicken”.

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