DWP chief sets 2022 goal of ‘using new technology to make it easier for customers to engage with us’

Peter Schofield discusses the importance of collaborating across organisational boundaries, and why Mary Berry is his ideal New Year’s Eve guest

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

As government moved into its second year of leading the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis – while also managing the UK’s ultimate exit from the European Union, delivering a potentially planet-saving global climate conference, and progressing major reform ambitions – civil servants were likely busier in 2021 than in any other year on record.

In its annual perm secs round-up, PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World heard form scores of Whitehall leaders about their experiences of the past 12 months and their plans for 2022.

Peter Schofield, permanent secretary of the Department for Work and Pensions, runs through the challenges and achievements of the past 12 months, and looks ahead to 2022

What was your highlight of 2021?
It’s been another busy year for DWP. We’ve continued the momentum from our response to Covid-19 in 2020 by supporting the economic recovery through the government’s Plan for Jobs. This has seen by November: 100,000 starts on Kickstart; more than 40,000 employment outcomes from Job Entry Targeted Support; 100,000 people participating in a Sector Based Work Academy, and employment hitting 75.4%. 

Tens of thousands of DWP colleagues across the country are working together to support our customers into work, where they’ll gain new skills and confidence. It is wonderful to see our work make such a difference to the lives of so many people.

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2021?
As with last year, our people have been central to everything we have achieved. This year was all about stabilising, delivering and transforming our services, and we’ve done this by working together to deliver our departmental plan.

Across the country, we’ve brought thousands of new colleagues into the business, opened new job centres, and begun the work to get us back to business as usual. 

Key to all of this has been the way we have worked together across organisational boundaries – across DWP, with other parts of the civil service and with our external partners, putting those we serve at the heart of what we do.

What is your number one priority for 2022?
There’s lots I could say, but perhaps the biggest thing is for DWP to continue to adapt so that we make the biggest possible impact. This means developing the way we support people to get into work and progress in work as the economy and labour market change. It means learning from new ways of working, and new interventions, for example, as we support people with health conditions to live independently and find work. It means using new technology to make it easier for customers to engage with us. And overall it means playing our part in contributing to the Modern Civil Service agenda. 

Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?
I’m going to choose Mary Berry. I’m not a big baker myself, but I do love the Christmas and New Year bakes and cakes, and ever since I went gluten free, I sometimes feel I miss out at this time of year. So rather shamelessly, I’m choosing Mary Berry on the basis that she would do the catering. But I’m sure she would be good company too!

Visit Civil Service World to read more entries in this year’s perm secs round-up

Sam Trendall

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