Tom Read reflects on his first 10 months in ‘the best job in government’
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.
The chief executive of the Government Digital Service, Tom Read, tells us why this year is all about delivery.
What was your highlight of 2021?
The easy answer is starting at the Government Digital Service back in February. I remember telling a former director general of GDS that he had the best job in government, and so landing this role was a big moment, and a big responsibility.
The real highlight of the year for me though was to be able to properly meet so many of the brilliant, passionate and just lovely people who work at GDS. After so long in lockdown, it has been just fabulous.
How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2021?
We tend to underplay the challenges of the past couple of years, but I think it is worth recognising the personal and work pressures our people have been under. Staff in GDS have consistently delivered vital access to critical information and services to millions of citizens, and all that while building new products and services that help create a simple, joined-up and personalised experience of government for everyone.
The pressure has not let up and I have tried to lead the teams with honesty and empathy because this can be a big ask.
I think I can help best by keeping the focus on what we are delivering for users: to help people get what they need from government, and to make those interactions simple, trusted and stress-free for people with busy and complicated lives. After all, that’s what we’re really about, isn’t it?
What is your number one priority for 2022?
If 2021 was about reflecting, resetting and laying out our priorities, 2022 is going to be all about delivery: getting real services in the hands of our users.
Our mission at GDS is to make the experience of using government services online simple, personalised and joined-up. We need to be rapidly delivering new digital services, testing and adapting. It’s very exciting.
Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?
My son is a bit of a Marvel obsessive, so maybe we’d do a bit of karaoke with Thor.