Chief executive Julie Lennard on the role of tech in responding to the pandemic, and how people’s expectations of online tools have changed
In a year unlike any other, senior figures from across the civil service took part in PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World’s annual perm secs round-up to discuss how the unprecedented 12 months affected them and their organisation, and look ahead to 2021.
Click here to read more from a wide selection of government leaders.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency relied on the swift implementation of online services to respond to the pandemic and, according to chief executive Julie Lennard (pictured above), the organisation needs to meet the public’s raised expectations for digital platforms throughout this year and beyond.
What are you proudest of your department or agency achieving in 2020?
I am incredibly proud of the resilience, commitment and professionalism shown by every single one of our 6,000 staff. From our operational staff remaining on site at the height of the first lockdown to make sure we helped key workers to stay on the roads, including lorry drivers and NHS staff, to those staff right across the Agency who adapted so well to working from home in such difficult circumstances. During this time, we’ve rapidly launched new digital services of our own and worked with other government departments including HMRC on the launch of theirs including the Self Employment Income Support scheme. Everyone at DVLA has worked so hard to keep our services running, from those staff who open the 50,000-plus envelopes we receive on site every day, to those who design, build and maintain our digital services, and every other member of the team that keeps this organisation working. So far this year, we’ve processed more than 195 million customer transactions, which I think is a huge achievement in an incredibly challenging year
What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2020?
Keeping our staff safe has been my priority, but we have still had to provide vital public services to help keep the country moving throughout the pandemic. It’s been hard to provide the level of customer service we all pride ourselves on, while having to totally change the way we work in order to keep staff safe. We handle hundreds of thousands of applications with sensitive personal information included such as drivers’ medical records or passports and other ID documents – and of course you can’t produce a driving licence from the spare bedroom. That means we need our operational front-line staff on-site in Swansea, which is why when Covid hit we had to respond rapidly and took a hybrid approach to ensure we could keep our services running, while complying with the UK and Welsh government advice for people to work from home where they could. Those in support roles have mostly worked from home while front line operational staff have been on-site throughout the pandemic. We had no real history of homeworking at DVLA, so it was a challenge to find ways to communicate and engage with a large number of staff who overnight had to adapt to homeworking. We also had to make sure our on-site staff were working in a safe environment and we introduced a range of measures including social distancing, fitting Perspex screens to desks, installing one-way systems and staggered start times as well as new shift patterns including evenings and weekends.
What are the main challenges facing your organisation in the coming year?
With the rollout of effective vaccines, perhaps like the rest of the world, the main challenge we will face is getting back on track, back to a sense of normality, back to focusing on our future plans. I am very much looking forward to launching our new and ambitious strategic plan in early 2021. This will see, among other things, the further development of our digital services, which have been such a big part of our Covid resilience. We have seen such a significant channel shift to digital in this year that I don’t think people will turn back from. People’s expectations of digital services have also changed and going forward our challenge will be how can we make our digital services even more personalised and so even better than they are now.
People will have to be more creative about celebrating this year. How will you make the festive period on Zoom special?
I have a large family and Christmas is usually a boisterous, noisy affair, so this year will be very different. Given our tradition of always using the same 50-something years old Monopoly set instead of all having our own, the traditional board game is out, but we may have to give Zoom charades a whirl!