With the end of 2015 in sight, we asked Whitehall's top officials to review the year, set out their priorities for 2016 – and shed some light on their festive plans. Met Office chief executive Rob Varley takes part in our biggest-ever perm secs' round-up series...
How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2015?
We in the Met Office are no stranger to challenges: scientific, technical and operational, and 2015 has seen great progress in all three areas.
In our science we have worked with partners in the UK and around the world to extend our understanding of global and regional climate risks, and so help inform the critical decisions of the Conference of Parties in Paris this December. Our scientific progress would not be possible without high-performance computing, and one of the key achievements of the year was the successful installation – ahead of schedule – of the first phase of a major new supercomputing system which when complete will be amongst the most powerful of its type in the world.
And then of course there’s the daily challenge: our 24/7 operations deliver over four million products to customers in the UK and around the world every day, without fail. Our services guide two thirds of all the global long-haul air traffic, support the UK military at home and on deployment, and ensure that emergency responders throughout the UK are prepared for whatever the weather has in store. And 2015 has been a busy first full year for our new Space Weather Operations Centre, working with partners in the UK and around the world to help protect vulnerable technologies from harmful solar emissions. None of this would be possible without a great team of professionals, of whom I am immensely proud.
What are your organisation’s top priorities in the year ahead?
Of course there are the continuing challenges of scientific progress, technological advances and operational delivery, with Phase Two of the new supercomputer on track to go live in March. But our top priority will always be our customers. This year saw us ranked number one in the UK Top 50 Customer Service Awards – a fantastic achievement – but we know there's always room to improve, helping our customers in both the public and private sectors make the right decisions, whatever the weather.
What film do you hope to watch over the festive period – and what’s the best game to play with the family on Christmas Day?
Our family's favourite Christmas film has always been that timeless classic: The Muppet Christmas Carol. But of course what we're really hoping for on Christmas Day is a deep fall of fresh snow so we can play our favourite game – building a huge snowman. So we'll be keeping a close eye on the forecast in the days before Christmas – ever hopeful!
Perm secs round-up 2015: Whitehall's top civil servants review the year – and look ahead to 2016