Which events or policies have dominated your attention during 2012, and how have you tackled them?
It won’t be a great surprise to readers that the economy has been the most significant policy area in my inbox this year. This is not simply an issue which affects departments such as BIS and Treasury. Instead, the Prime Minister is clear that all Government departments have to play their part in delivering economic growth, and through that all civil servants. As Cabinet Secretary it is my responsibility to work with all the departments to ensure policies support the need to increase economic growth and employment.
How have the shape and capabilities of your department changed during 2012?
Across government the civil service is getting smaller and having to review the way in which it works. In particular, we need to embrace new technologies and I’m delighted that the Government Digital Strategy was published last month. I’ve seen several teams really embrace digital technology to support their work, from blogs to Twitter feeds; people are delivering new ideas and a better service to the public by doing more of their work online in a streamlined and transparent way. We’ve a long way to go before the Civil Service Reform Plan commitment of “digital by default” is a reality, but we’re heading in the right direction.
Which aspects of the Civil Service Reform Plan are most important to improving the capabilities and operations of your department?
The whole reform plan is essential to the future of the Civil Service. In particular though, I am really keen to make open policy making a reality. I firmly believe that civil servants should be engaging with experts in their field, from businesses to academics, when they develop policy advice. If policy makers actively seek challenge and advice from the start, the end product will be much better. In addition, we can and should be better at horizon scanning and sharing talent and expertise with the private sector and third sector.
What are the main challenges facing your department in 2013?
For me, the best part of being a civil servant is the breadth of issues we get to work on, all of which affect people in this country. Next year will be no exception. The economy will continue to feature heavily, and the government’s commitment to strengthening economic growth and delivering the deficit reduction programme will remain a priority for all departments. The Eurozone crisis and all matters European will continue to take up a lot of time. There will also be new issues to deal with: the Scottish independence referendum and withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan are both happening in 2014, but will be the focus of considerable work by civil servants across government in 2013 as we prepare for them.
Cracker jokes are notoriously bad. Can you give your colleagues a good joke to tell over the Christmas dinner table?
What do you call a bunch of chess players bragging about their games in a hotel lobby? Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer!
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