International Trade perm sec Sir Martin Donnelly on launching a new department & handing over the reins in 2017

Written by Civil Service World on 13 December 2016 in Interview
Interview

With the end of 2016 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top officials to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2017 – and shed some light on their festive favourites. Sir Martin Donnelly, permanent secretary, Department for International Trade, takes part in our annual perm secs round-up...

What was your highlight of 2016?
That is a tough call in a very busy year. In the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills I got great satisfaction from how our joint team with the Department for Education took forward Britain’s most ambitious apprenticeship system for a generation, keeping us on track for the three million apprenticeship target by 2020. That was also the case from April with the way we marshalled a team of 100 people working to help the UK steel industry and keep plants open in Port Talbot and elsewhere – a really impressive of example of civil service professionalism in action.

My DIT highlight was having the chance to build a new department which combined trade policy and trade practice and which is already having real impact. My personal highlight was talking to 600 women leaders from across the public sector in October. There is so much talent available to government. We must make the best use of everyone’s diverse skills and background. 

"We have moved from a standing start in the middle of July to having the department up and running in a matter of weeks"

What has been the most significant change in your department this year?
Setting up the new Department for International Trade has been a great challenge and has brought the best of civil service flexibility and resilience to the fore. We have moved from a standing start in the middle of July to having the department up and running in a matter of weeks. Over the autumn we have built a strong partnership with our ministerial team, made great progress in developing a shared culture of teamwork and diversity across the new department, and reached out around the world working closely with the our excellent embassy teams to deliver export opportunities and new investments in the UK. 

What will be the biggest challenge of 2017 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
There is more to do deliver all of our trade policy objectives and that is a challenge that I will hand to my successor, who will be supported by a dedicated and enthusiastic team. My personal goal is to ensure as smooth a handover as Alex Chisholm and I did together when the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy came into being over the summer.

What was the best Christmas present that you’ve ever given or received? And the worst?
In recent years I enjoyed receiving tickets to a Florence + the Machine concert which widened my musical horizons. And I try to forget the vivid green shirt a family member gave me when I was a teenager.

More: Perm secs round-up 2016 – Britain's top civil servants review the year and look ahead to 2017

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