By CivilServiceWorld

19 Dec 2012

Robert Devereux

Permanent Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions

Which events or policies have dominated your attention during 2012?

Three major themes have dominated in 2012, and will do so again in 2013: continuing to deliver crucial public services for 22m citizens; preparing, and beginning to deliver, the biggest welfare reforms in several generations; and building the capability of the department to do both, on the bedrock of the extraordinary commitment and experience of our staff.

The continued success of our labour market operations is shown by the way that the level of unemployment remains much lower, for the level of economic activity, than in previous economic cycles, and that the level of economic inactivity continues to fall. This, in turn, reflects our operations: every day, DWP moves 14,000 claimants off Jobseekers Allowance.

In 2012 we also began delivering on major welfare reform. In October, employees across the country began automatically to be enrolled in work place pensions. Starting with large employers, this is a huge programme of behavioural change, moving from a world where people had to take action to start pension saving, to one where they have to take action to stop saving.

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

We’ve been building our capability throughout 2012, making sure we harness the energy and ideas of all our colleagues in DWP, recognising that in a complex business we all have a stake in each other’s successes. Our interest in building what we’ve called One DWP is starting to make a difference: there are increasing examples of how an idea in one team has been brought to fruition by another, improving service or reducing costs. And that is reflected in a marked rise in our staff engagement scores; up four percentage points, and reversing a three-year decline. This is good news, and something we can build on further in 2013.

DWP has also made major strides in the creation and use of management information to drive performance, and reduce cost. In May 2012 we won the Institute for Government’s Award for Inspiration for Government. These developments together are driving better overall performance. Our 2011-12 accounts recorded a 12 per cent increase in productivity.

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

As the Plan recognised, DWP is at the forefront of providing freedom and flexibilities to frontline staff, who are best placed to decide what will best support (and, as necessary, challenge) claimants, whether in finding work or preparing to find work. This means Jobcentres can work better with essential partners, enabling districts to tailor flexible support for young people; and youth unemployment has fallen recently to below a million.

What are your main challenges for 2013?

Throughout 2012 we have been preparing for the start next April of the pathfinder of Universal Credit, the Personal Independence Payment, and the Benefit Cap. This represents an extraordinary portfolio of change, demanding a high level of management skills. As we move into 2013, this will increasingly be supplemented by the training of frontline staff across the country to operate the new systems.

Tell your colleagues a good joke for Christmas

A personal trainer asks a new client about his goals. “I’ve always wanted to do the splits,” comes the reply. Worrying about his duty of care, the trainer asks, “Are you flexible?”. “ I can’t do Thursdays,” says the client.

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