By Civil Service World

10 Dec 2015

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. John Pullinger, UK National Statistician and head of the Government Statistical Service, takes part in our biggest-ever perm secs round-up series...

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2015?
It has been a challenge this year in the run up to the general election and since to keep up with the demands for new statistical insights on current issues whilst keeping regular series coming out every day. Teams across the Government Statistical Service have shown wonderful professionalism in meeting the twin requirements to be working alongside policy and operational colleagues and demonstrating rigour and independence in their analysis and presentation of findings. 

This year has also been the year when the data revolution got serious. The scale and variety of data sources are growing exponentially, calling us to innovate quickly. We have tackled this by encouraging a culture of curiosity in all staff – “how can I deliver continuous improvement in service; can I do this differently?” 

Within ONS, reform of the organisation has brought many challenges – moving to a better system for staff pay, improving skills, upgrading technology, renewing leadership and governance to name but a few. With a supportive board, a determined senior management team and patience from our staff, we are steadily implementing radical change.

Perm secs round-up 2015: Whitehall's top civil servants review the year – and look ahead to 2016
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What are your department’s top priorities in the year ahead? 
My top priority from the outset has been economic statistics. Over the next year we will be greatly assisted by the results of a review commissioned by the chancellor looking at how we can improve our understanding of the modern economy. 

We will bring analytical insights to policymakers across all domains within the UK and devolved governments. This will require us to be much smarter in how we access and mobilise data from a range of sources, including looking at the legal gateways and taking steps to ensure that the public and business continue to view us as trustworthy guardians of their data. 

Development of data capability will remain a top priority – investing in skills and engaging the brightest minds. As the year progresses we will deliver a radical upgrade in the technologies we are using to enable us to operate more quickly, more flexibly and more cost effectively. 

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?
I will be watching Spectre on the biggest screen I can find. And any game with my granddaughter will be a delight. 

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