BEIS chief on revamping the department’s tech and rolling out the Industrial Strategy

Department chief on the challenges and triumphs of the past year

Credit: Photoshot

The annual perm secs round-up published by PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World sees Whitehall’s senior leaders open up on their biggest challenges and opportunities – as well as their thoughts on how best to mark the festive season. Here Alex Chisholm (pictured above), permanent secretary of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, discusses the department’s work in 2018 and the challenges ahead.

What was your highlight of 2018? 
There are so many to choose from. I’m incredibly proud of BEIS as a department and the development journey we’ve been on over the last two years. This year alone we’ve launched the Shared Parental Leave campaign, the consumer green paper, a new internal performance management approach, overhauled the department’s technology, seen the Nuclear Safeguards Bill and Energy Price Cap Bill pass through parliament, contributed heavily to EU exit white papers and technical notices, and published a white paper on national security and investment. Just a few weeks ago we celebrated the first ever Green Great Britain Week. But probably above all, it’s the launch and momentum gained on the industrial strategy that’s my highlight. From publishing the industrial strategy white paper in November 2017, to the prime minister unveiling the four industrial strategy Grand Challenge missions, and the launching of six sector deals, the whole department has gone above and beyond to deliver, working with brilliant colleagues right across Whitehall. And it will only get bigger and better – in early December we celebrated “one year on” and our ambition and resolve increases going into 2019. 

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2018? 
The hardest moment for me was the news that Jeremy Heywood had died. His untimely death is a huge loss for us all. I hope we can take on his mission of reforming public services and championing excellence throughout the civil service. More generally, I feel the complexity and uncertainty of the political, social and economic environment has never been more acute. We are fortunate to have the resilience, professionalism and adaptability of officials in my department and the wider civil service – I’ve never been prouder to be a civil servant.

What are the main challenges facing your department in the coming year? 
Delivering a Brexit result that works for business. Whatever the developments in the coming weeks, BEIS has an immense responsibility to provide assurance and clear direction, so that businesses across the UK continue to operate with confidence. We will have a big role in helping them to plan for and implement whatever deal we secure. 

Which celebrity or historical figure would you choose to turn on the Christmas lights in your town, and why? 
I would choose to have Emmeline Pankhurst turn on the Christmas lights. This only seems fitting, given the centenary of some women first gaining the vote this year. I also have a personal connection – my wife’s family for years was in possession of Emmeline’s suffragette dress. It’s a long story… Happily, I was able to reunite the dress with her great-granddaughter, Helen, at the cross-government International Women’s Day in March, which BEIS co-hosted. The dress has been on tour through the UK and now has a longer-term home at the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester.



Sam Trendall

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