Sir Bob Kerslake
Head of the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government
Which events or policies have dominated your attention during 2012, and how have you tackled them?
This year has seen the publication of the Civil Service Reform Plan which looks to make fundamental changes to the way we work. The plan touches on all parts of the Civil Service from sharing services, to becoming digital by default, to improving performance management. I know that people need to hear what these messages mean to them, which is why I have frequently travelled round the country to visit civil servants. I have listened to their suggestions and this has reinforced my belief that we can and will make the Reform Plan a reality.
At DCLG we have proved that we are good at delivering. This year has seen some significant achievements, such as the Housing Strategy, the National Planning Policy Framework and the Local Government Finance Act.
How have the shape and capabilities of your department changed during 2012?
The shape of the Civil Service has changed significantly this year; we are now at our smallest size since the Second World War. Nevertheless, I believe that our capabilities have remained strong. The Olympics was a fantastic demonstration of this.
This year has been an extremely challenging one for DCLG: we had a new coalition government and new ministers who, I think it’s fair to say, weren’t convinced initially that we had ‘got’ their agenda. We also had a mountain to climb in the scale of change we needed to implement as an organisation. I think that to deliver such large-scale, challenging work so soon after a major restructure demonstrated very clearly just what DCLG is capable of. In addition we have refreshed our top team, which is working really well as a group.
Which aspects of the Civil Service Reform Plan are most important to improving the capabilities and operations of your department?
The publication of the Reform Plan in June received some good feedback and, understandably, some challenge over how far it will be implemented. From my discussions with civil servants in many departments, it’s clear to me that there’s good practice in many places, but it isn’t yet consistent. The trick is to take the best we see, and make it the norm across the Civil Service. That’s how I view the task of implementing the Reform Plan – and it’s my top priority.
What are the main challenges facing your department in 2013?
The Civil Service is integral to this country’s prosperity and wellbeing and we are facing a clear challenge to rebalance our economy and tackle the fiscal deficit. So the key challenge for us as civil servants is how to achieve these two aims and encourage growth whilst we go through a significant programme of reform ourselves.
At DCLG I think we need to build on the progress we’ve made in these last two years. It's been tough; but as a department we have come through it with incredible resilience, and that’s something we should be proud of.
Cracker jokes are notoriously bad. Can you give your colleagues a good joke to tell over the Christmas dinner table?
I think cracker jokes should be cringe-making, so in that light:
What is the most popular carol in the desert?
Camel ye faithful
Written by Sir Bob Kerslake