‘We have balanced the urgent response to the pandemic with the legal requirements that underpin civil service appointments’: Civil Service Commission chief Pete Lawrence on 2020

2020 was a year unlike any other, with the coronavirus pandemic upending the work of government and changing how we live our daily lives. Senior figures from across the civil service tell us how the unprecedented 12 months affected them, and look ahead to 2021
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By Civil Service World

22 Dec 2020

 

What are you proudest of government achieving in 2020?

I am extremely proud of the way in which the civil service is now really embracing Going Forward into Employment and other life chances schemes which provide opportunities to those who would otherwise face barriers to employment in the civil service. My small team has worked tirelessly this year to promote the concept, support departments in developing schemes and advertising roles, and working with candidates who are going into daunting and life changing experiences. The Going Forward into Employment programme which is led by the commission has, as I write, just reached start number 80 where a veteran has been appointed through the programme to lead the veterans’ strand of our own work; it is important that we understand the lived experiences of those we are seeking to help. 

I am also proud of the way in which each of the independent bodies my team supports has risen to the challenges presented by the pandemic and the restrictions with which we have had to live and work. The changes that had to be made quickly at senior levels meant we received a significant number of requests for temporary appointments to be made to the civil service by exception, that is without having gone through fair and open recruitment.  We have played our part well in balancing the immediate and urgent response to the pandemic with the legal requirements that underpin civil service appointments.

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2020?

I probably won't be the only one to say this but 2020 has provided a number of challenges to leaders because of Covid-19. It was hard having to give my teams a realistic view from the outset about the longevity of the hiatus from the office, particularly as many were hoping it would be short term. Then just as things looked like offices would reopen hopes were dashed again. Nine months on I look back and am so proud of how the team supported each other through this period.  Staff have all faced different situations with some having limited space from which to work and feeling they can't get away from work. Others joined the team during the restrictions and delayed planned moves to London. Many, including me, felt isolated at the beginning even when we don't live alone. In many ways my team is now closer than ever, collaborating more productively and making time to help others. The one thing I can say with certainty is that we continued to deliver our business even when priorities changed, and time pressures increased. I know that has only been possible because of the commitment and dedication of my whole team.

What are the main challenges facing government in the coming year?

As the pandemic has shown we never quite know what challenges the future holds for citizens or governments. However, we are now better equipped than ever to face disruption – we have proved that mass remote working is feasible. Flexibility, responsiveness and pragmatism have been needed in bucket loads – both in our professional and private lives – and people have developed necessary new skills quickly.  Having just seen my organisation’s annual Civil Service People Survey results I am reassured by the above average results that we are ready for whatever comes next.

People will have to be more creative about celebrating this year. How will you make the festive period on Zoom special?

Like most other things in 2020, the festive period is going to be a bit different this year. Sadly, there will be no social gathering for lunch and secret Santa, followed by a trip to a nearby bar!  Instead, we plan to build on our virtual social sessions which have included a 'Lockdown Newsletter' where one of our team updates everyone on their life in lockdown.  We have also run team events and meetings on-line so our Christmas celebration will be an on-line party with each member of the team receiving a mystery box in advance to open on the day – Merry Christmas!

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