By Civil Service World

19 Dec 2012

Jonathan Rees

Director General, Government Equalities Office


Which events or policies have dominated your attention during 2012?

Like most people in Whitehall, GEO has been focusing on the growth agenda, and in our case the contribution a fairer, more equal society can make to a stronger economy. For instance, if women worked at their skills level, that could be a boost to the economy of £15-21bn – twice the value of the UK’s exports to China. So we have taken lots of steps to boost women’s participation in the labour market, working with BIS on encouraging women entrepreneurs and with DEFRA on helping women in rural areas. I am particularly proud of our new voluntary gender equality transparency programme, Think Act Report, which now covers more than a million workers. The other policy dominating the last six months has been the government’s plans for equal marriage for same-sex couples. We have just completed analysing the 228,000 responses we received, which we think is four times as big as any other government consultation response. It was a major logistical challenge and something to which everyone in GEO contributed.

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

We ran a major transformation programme in the first six months of the year, reshaping our vision, mission and organisational structure. We have also downsized, reducing the size of our SCS cohort by a quarter. A key priority has also been to introduce a much more flexible approach to deploying staff resources. Rather than set up a separate pool – impossible for such a small team – we introduced a requirement that everyone should work up to one day a week outside their day job.

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

As a policy department, we are particularly interested in the ideas about improving the policy formulation process. We have for instance long employed collaborative methods for developing policy and use digital and social media to reach new audiences: our consultation on our Transgender Action Plan reached more Trans people directly than had ever been reached before. We have also learned fascinating lessons about consultation in our analysis on equal marriage. It is clear that the medium used influences the results: people who responded to our online survey were far more positive to government proposals than those responding by email or on paper. It’s vital that policy makers understand this.

What are your main challenges for 2013?

The first challenge is to cope with the most recent machinery of government change: our move from the Home Office to DCMS. Fortunately we have lots of experience: it is our sixth move in the last six years. DCMS colleagues have been hugely welcoming, but such frequent changes are resource-intensive, unsettling for staff, and difficult to explain to both staff and partners. We will also have our policy hands full, taking forward work on same-sex marriage, further work on women and the economy, and implementing the results of the Equality Act Red Tape Challenge. And personally I have decided after five years to leave GEO (and the Civil Service) at the end of January to look for fresh challenges where I can best serve the public.

Tell your colleagues a good joke for Christmas

Here is my ten year old son’s recommendation:

In these challenging financial times, it looks like even Santa Claus is finding it tough to make ends meet. He offered to sell me Rudolf for £1,000. I hesitated for a moment and he said if I bought Rudolf, he’d throw in Blitzen as well. I pondered Rudolf and Blitzen for £1,000, and then thought: “No, that’s two deer.”

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