What has been your highlight of the last 12 months?
Moving from London to Scotland with my family, getting to know my teams and our partners, and making progress together in hard times. This year has been unique in my life, and I have been humbled by the compassion and professionalism I have encountered in Scotland. Despite complex challenges, I am very proud of the team and the progress we have made. I am grateful for their leadership and contributions, from vital work to tackle child poverty as we welcomed record women in work employment rates, to building innovative partnerships that will help to tackle drug deaths in Scotland, with numbers falling for the first time since 2013.
The purposeful focus on delivery is important, from getting started with our new strategy for economic transformation, to accelerating action to meet Scotland’s ambitious net zero targets. I have seen exceptional policy development and delivery this year in support of our ministers’ commitments. Highlights include delivering the increase and extension to the Scottish Child Payment, which opened the benefit to more than 400,000 children; providing refuge for over 21,000 Ukrainians; and working hard to sustain our Covid response and recovery. We also implemented two emergency budget reviews to reduce expenditure so that we could afford fairer public sector pay settlements to protect our public services, maximising support for those who need it most in this cost-of-living crisis. Despite all the challenges, the teams have risen to the challenge with integrity, compassion and kindness, and we have made important progress together, true to our values.
What was your most difficult decision in 2022?
Financial constraints and pressures have dominated this year and required many difficult decisions as we sought to prioritise in a hard context. Whilst this has often felt difficult, I am proud of how we are stepping through this recessionary moment with positive intent, putting a real premium on value for money and driving a relentless focus on improving outcomes. We are working hard, at all levels within our organisation, to embed this discipline now and for the future, as we look to transform how we work and deliver more for less in the service of Scotland.
What is the biggest challenge facing the Scottish Government in 2023, and how will you meet that challenge as an organisation?
I think we share in the challenges facing all organisations at this time – how best to deliver progress in tough times and continue to invest in and support our people. Developing resilience and supporting wellbeing has never been more important. Our organisational values – we act with integrity, we are inclusive, we are collaborative, we are innovative, we are kind – have guided us over this past year and will continue to do so through 2023. We have an excellent programme of corporate transformation underway to equip our people with better tools, better systems, and better data. And we are equipping our organisation for the challenges we face. I want us to lead by example in the public sector, building a modern, agile, exemplary organisation that is fit for the future, looking after each other as we go.
“Despite all the challenges, the teams have risen to the challenge with integrity, compassion and kindness, and we have made important progress together"
And personally, as a leader?
This has been my first year as a perm sec – one I will never forget. I began the year focused on building recovery from the pandemic and whilst that remains a firm priority we had to quickly pivot and deal with a range of complex issues including multiple winter storms, war in Europe and an acute cost crisis, with inflation at levels I never imagined possible. What I learned about myself, and indeed about the organisation I now lead, is our ability to respond at pace, building on our collective learning from the pandemic, addressing the challenges our country faces head on. We are continuing to invest in relationships with our partners to deliver real system leadership and show our civil service at its professional best.
It's not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season?
I was once SRO of a major project where the secretary of state and I agreed we would publish our revised plan just before Christmas, for reasons I won’t elaborate on here. Christmas was a bit busier and bumpier than I had expected, not least given I was in the Cairngorms in Scotland with variable phone signal. I spent too many hours trying to send messages on my Blackberry to the press office, much to the dismay of my girlfriend at the time – I am glad to say we are now happily married with two children, living in Scotland. And I no longer own a Blackberry!