By Richard Johnstone

18 Dec 2018

With the end of 2018 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top civil servants to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2019 – and tell us who would turn on their town’s Christmas lights.

What was your highlight of 2018?

The highlight of 2018 for me was getting our new capability and change programme, Futureproofing, properly off the ground. It focuses on two main areas – boosting skills and capability throughout the Welsh Government plus overhauling our performance and talent management. We’ve cascaded high quality leadership training throughout the whole organisation, as well as upgrading our wider training offer. I’m very proud that we were awarded a TEDx licence, enabling us to run some highly innovative and exciting events for staff. And we’ve introduced a programme of mini secondments for staff at all levels to spend some time in other parts of the organisation, as well as externally to experience different working environments and new ideas and approaches. When I arrived in this job getting on for two years ago, I didn’t bring a pre-packaged change programme. Instead, Futureproofing has been built up from the ground, drawing on my predecessor’s work plus extensive consultations and workshops with staff from all our offices. Everyone has played a part and contributed ideas. The trade unions, with whom we have a very positive partnership relationship, have played a strong role. What really gives me a boost is when people stop me to tell me to keep going, because it feels as though things are changing.

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2018?

The hardest part for me has been maintaining tight controls on staff numbers and promotion to keep within reducing staffing budgets, at a time when staff are responding enthusiastically to the demands of the Welsh Government’s ambitious national delivery programme, and to the increasing pressures of Brexit preparedness. It’s a tricky balance and I’m very conscious of the need to manage the resilience of the organisation.

What are the main challenges facing your organisation in the coming year?

 I think the biggest challenge facing most of us over the coming year will be how we prepare effectively for Brexit, despite the continuing uncertainties over the nature of the final deal – and at a time when the civil service is under tough staffing constraints. Ensuring maximum preparedness and a smooth transition to a still unknown future is an ever-present challenge. But one upside has been the growing collaboration between our officials and their Whitehall colleagues – slow at first but now intensifying.

Which celebrity or historical figure would you choose to turn on the Christmas lights in your town, and why?

That’s a very easy question! It would have to be Geraint Thomas, Olympic gold medallist and this year’s Tour de France champion. He’s a home-grown hero – and extraordinarily modest about his fantastic achievements.

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