Skip to content

The Opening of the Legal Year

Box containing the ceremonial sword.

There aren’t many jobs in the Civil Service that come with their own sword, but the Permanent Secretary’s role as Clerk of the Crown in Chancery is one of them, and the 1st of October is one of the occasions where I get to wear it.

Judges walking from Westminster Abbey to the Houses of Parliament (Picture: Getty)

Judges walking from Westminster Abbey to the Houses of Parliament (Picture: Getty)

The occasion was the ceremonies which take place to mark the Opening of the Legal Year in England and Wales. In a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, judges in their full wigs and gowns travelled in procession from the Temple Bar outside the Royal Courts of Justice to Westminster Abbey for a special service, followed by the Lord Chancellor’s Breakfast (actually lunchtime, and canapés) in Westminster Hall. The Lord Chief Justice’s Office this year assumed responsibility for the arrangements for this special service but the team in the Crown Office, led by Ian Denyer, continue to organise the Breakfast reception. The Lord Chancellor hosts the Breakfast which is attended by Ambassadors, High Commissioners, the senior judiciary and distinguished overseas guests representing other jurisdictions with which MoJ is fostering special links.

Myself and PPS James Crawforth ready to leave the office.

Myself and PPS James Crawforth ready to leave the office.

These events are a colourful reminder of the MoJ’s unique constitutional position, with its fascinating origins in the Lord Chancellor’s Office created in 1885, but with a history stretching back much further, making it one of the oldest government departments in the UK. After hundreds of years developing as an independent Department of State, a series of wide-ranging constitutional changes in 2003 saw it evolve first into the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and then in 2007 into the MoJ as we know it today.

For me this means that as well as being the Permanent Secretary of a modern day government department which is barely 8 years old, I also hold the centuries old position (and associated ceremonial weaponry), of Clerk of The Crown. This role derives from the origin of the office of the Lord Chancellor as secretary to the medieval Kings of England with responsibility for authenticating their letters by means of the Great Seal of the Realm. Today, the many and varied constitutional duties involved in holding the Great Seal are administered by the MoJ’s Crown Office, for which I am responsible, based in the Palace of Westminster.

All this means that every October, the Lord Chancellor, and a couple of other members of the MoJ’s Private Office and me suspend normal office life for one morning to turn the clocks back a few hundred years: I put down my pen and pick up a sword, the Secretary of State’s PPS puts down his briefing packs and wields a seventeenth century golden mace, the symbol of the Sovereign’s authority, and the Secretary of State’s Diary Secretary puts down her papers and bears a ceremonial purse, designed for the Great Seal, and together we process in our medieval finery to Westminster Abbey!

James Crawforth leading the way as Macebearer, followed by Marika Fawcett as Pursebearer, and the Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling (Picture: The Law Society Gazette)

James Crawforth leading the way as Macebearer, followed by Marika Fawcett as Pursebearer, and the Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling (Picture: The Law Society Gazette)

From Waitrose to Whitehall – FT covers WIG Exchange

Last Thursday the Financial Times wrote a piece covering an exchange programme in which I took part, that allowed Permanent Secretaries of government departments and CEOs of major companies to spend a day in each others shoes. You can read it here:

October 16, 2014 12:53 pm

From Waitrose to Whitehall

By Emma Jacobs

Dame Ursula Brennan is impressed by the private sector’s ability to test ideas quickly. ©Charlie Bibby

You can learn a lot in a day. At least that is what Mark Price, managing director of supermarket chain Waitrose, thinks. For one working day, he shadowed Dame Ursula Brennan, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, which oversees the UK’s courts and prisons. He returned the favour, inviting her to see the inner workings of the grocery trade.

The exchange was organised by the Whitehall & Industry Group , a 30-year-old charity that tries to build relations between the public and private sectors. It paired 13 top civil servants with 13 chief executives to spend a day at each other’s office. Billed as a chance for professional insight, it was also an opportunity to find out if their working lives would be any better if they switched to the other side.

These odd couples included Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, and Justin King, the former chief executive of Sainsbury’s, the supermarket chain; Philip Rutnam at the Department for Transport and Ana Botín, then head of the UK subsidiary of Santander, (before she was appointed to the helm of the Spanish banking group); and the Department for Education’s Chris Wormald, twinned with António Horta-Osório, Lloyds Banking Group CEO.

Drawing up the matches, Mark Gibson, chief executive of WIG, was keen to avoid any possible conflicts of interest and kept people away from departments with which they already deal. Although presumably Steve Mogford, chief executive of United Utilities, who spent a couple of days in the company of Lin Homer, of HM Revenue & Customs, pays taxes.

The purpose of these insight days? To show how their peers manage large, complex organisations and explain the machinations of business and government, which can seem bewildering to outsiders.

Mr Price, who oversees more than 300 Waitrose branches in the UK, and is also deputy chairman of John Lewis Partnership, the parent, was struck by the similarities between the private and public sector. His pairing with Dame Ursula made him realise that many of the challenges were the same, such as implementing strategy, managing risk and trying to get the best out of teams.

The need for civil servants to answer to select committees is not unlike regular financial reporting, suggests Mr Price.

Mr Gibson was surprised at the extent of common ground the permanent secretaries and chief executives. “They are both looking after large, complex businesses. The challenges of managing that are very similar.”

Mark Price admires the levels of support projects are given in the civil service

Mark Price admires the levels of support projects are given in the civil service

Business is often portrayed as an efficient machine compared with the bumbling, slow-moving bureaucracy of the civil service. Its sleek operations have been held up as a model for government. In a speech last month, Sir Bob Kerslake, the outgoing head of the civil service, said that the institution needed to move to a “corporate model with stronger professional leadership across Whitehall”. John Manzoni, a former BP executive, was chosen this summer as Whitehall’s first chief executive with a brief to improve efficiency in the era of government cuts. The job advertisement stipulated that candidates needed boardroom experience.

Mr Price insists he had not viewed the civil service with scorn. He notes that many in the John Lewis Partnership – Britain’s largest employee-owned retailer, of which Waitrose is the food division – have worked in senior levels at the civil service. “I know they are very capable.”

He believes that the civil service’s more “thoughtful” culture may be at the root of its portrayal as inefficient. “People perceive that as slow. It’s different to the knee-jerk culture of business.”

Nonetheless, Steve Holliday of National Grid points out that the experience helped him understand the difficulties of the civil service, particularly useful for a business that deals with government. “It helps you to understand how people operate. The frustrations. The lack of clarity. The challenges of working within the system.”

What can you actually learn in a day though? Mr Gibson says that he had to be realistic. Such senior figures were never going to be able to spare great chunks of their time.

Dame Ursula says that seeing someone else grappling with similar problems was encouraging and inspired ideas. “It’s not so much about learning new techniques as putting things in perspective and reminding you what really matters in your own job.”

Mr Wormald of the education department reflects that at this level of seniority the short, focused exposure was valuable. “It would not have been so useful earlier in my career when you need to go for a longer period, a set-piece secondment.”

Ana Botín of Santander teamed up with Philip Rutnam at the transport department. ©Reuters

Ana Botín of Santander teamed up with Philip Rutnam at the transport department. ©Reuters

Waitrose’s chief says that the hours in the public sector were no less demanding. When he arrived at the justice ministry at 8.30am, Dame Ursula was already at her desk. They parted company at 7pm and he expects that she stayed on working.

Mr Price feels the media place Dame Ursula under greater scrutiny than him. “There is a white heat that glows around her and the department. I get more background noise and superficial chatter about coffee.”

One area of particularly sharp contrast was in meeting styles. Mr Gibson detected a wave of envy from the civil servants. “The private sector is less consensual, more focused and outcome-driven.”

Mr Price felt he could learn from Dame Ursula’s “amazing grace”, adding: “There are times when we can all become defensive. She never got defensive. She was never ruffled and always honest.”

Dame Ursula envied business’s clarity over accountability and responsibility, as well as its ability to trial innovations. “A retail organisation [can] use the branch network to test ideas quickly before rolling them out nationally.”

It was a high level of support in the civil service that left Mr Price green-eyed. “Commercial organisations don’t have that. She has a team of people briefing her – that attention to detail is greater than anywhere in the commercial world.”

John Lewis has been held up by the coalition government as the caring face of capitalism and as a model for public services, allowing staff to sell their services back to the taxpayer through co-operatives in the style of the retailer. Does Mr Price think that is possible? Key to his organisation, he says, is “the happiness of the people who work there”. While its model of sharing power, knowledge and profits can be applied anywhere, it is “jolly difficult to replicate the detail”.

Whatever the styles and pressures, pay is an area of stark contrast. Civil service salaries are much lower than top business jobs. Does Mr Price deserve the higher pay? “Who knows?” he says.

Any plans to switch to the public sector? “I don’t anticipate a move.” 
Twitter: @emmavj

Original article (pay wall):


Celebrating Diversity!

D&E Awards

I’m delighted that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is hosting the 2014 Civil Service Diversity and Equality Awards tomorrow.  This will be an opportunity to welcome teams from across the Civil Service and to celebrate their achievements.

We started the celebrations early in the MoJ with an event last week to meet our own nominees and hear their stories.  They ranged from individuals who had simply gone out of their way to help a colleague in need, to teams working on equality policies and campaigns.

The response to the Awards this year has been really impressive, with an amazing 74% increase in nominations!

In the Civil Service we serve a diverse population and we want our workforce to reflect that diversity.  Today I helped to launch a new Gender Equality Forum in MoJ with a group of women – and men – who are committed to working to ensure that we get more women into senior roles in our department.  We talked about barriers, incentives, false assumptions and culture, and much more.

Tomorrow we’ll be celebrating men and women who’ve done their bit to remove barriers, create a more open culture and help everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability or sexuality to fulfil their potential.  Look out for news of the winners tomorrow a blog from Sir Simon Fraser’s on the Awards!


What’s it all about?

View the 2013 Diversity and Equality Awards here:

Meet the Team: Human Rights and Security

HR&S Team

The Human Rights and Security Team

Last week I was on the sixth floor in 102 Petty France, visiting the Human Rights and Security team.

I heard about the breadth of their work, not just on European and Domestic Human Rights issues, but United Nations and Security work too. One example which may not be well known is all the work being done to get the Gender Recognition Panel ready and ensuring it is integrated into the work of other government departments by early December.

The brief visit finished with a team discussion about the work on the horizon for the next year. Many of the issues are controversial and we talked about the importance of the civil service values of honesty, integrity, objectivity and impartiality and how they can support us all in our work.


Do you have a suggestion for a part of the MoJ I should visit ? If so leave a comment below.

From Credit Card Fraud to Dog Breeding – OR and Data Science

OR Wordle Today I published a new post on the Civil Service Leader’s Blog about the great work being carried out by government analysts on data science, you can read it here.

In it I discuss speaking about Operational Research (OR) and data in government at the mind-bendingly diverse Operational Research Society’s annual conference, where talks ranged in topics from analytics in credit card fraud to the role of OR in dog breeding!

If you are interested in data science you can also get the latest update on the Data Science in Government programme over on the Open Policy Making Blog.

New Civil Service Leaders Blog – Transforming Contract Management

The new Civil Service Leaders Blog

Visit the new Civil Service Leaders Blog

On the 3rd of September Sir Jeremy Heywood launced the Civil Service Leaders Blog. Each week, a different member of the Board will update you on some of the key issues affecting the Civil Service as we continue to implement the government’s programme and prepare for the General Election on 7th May 2015.

Yesterday I wrote a piece on Transforming Contract Management, talking about my recent appearance at the Public Accounts Committee, and how contract management has changed across the Civil Service.

I hope you will find this a useful forum to learn more about our priorities, achievements and challenges. We also want your thoughts on what interests you, and what you think the Civil Service Board should be focusing on.


Meet the team: Transforming Youth Custody

for the new secure college

Plan for the new secure college

Last month I was on the eighth floor in 102 Petty France, visiting the Transforming Youth Custody team.

I heard how they are helping to make sure young offenders are equipped for a life away from crime: whether this is through the plans for the new secure college, improving education in existing young offender institutions or improving how we help young offenders into work on their release from custody.

I then visited their project room, with the walls covered in an array of charts, diagrams and graphs. The picture here is the plan for the new secure college – the white blocks looks a bit futuristic but the plans are based on all the learning from years of experience of running young offender institutions. Among the other material, I was particularly impressed by their programme dashboard which helps them to effectively manage risks.

In chatting to the team we talked about the need in MoJ to get better at project management and to hone our commercial skills – both of which are priorities in our Departmental Improvement Plan. It is only through investing in our people that we can make the best of the many challenges in delivering programmes such as Transforming Youth Custody.


Do you have a suggestion for a part of the MoJ I should visit ? If so leave a comment below.

Meet the Team: Communication Evaluation and Insight

There is a real push from the Central Government Communications Profession to ensure that departments gets the right information to the right people at the right time, whether that be with staff, practitioners or the public. Evaluating our communications is one key way of ensuring we are as effective as possible.

Ursula visits the Performance Hub

Ursula visits the Performance Hub

I recently visited the MoJ Communications Evaluation team to see for myself how the MoJ uses data to inform communications activity. I was impressed firstly by the sheer volume of data they collect and by the way it is used to identify where potential improvements can be made and to identify the best way to communicate with different audiences. For example, the metrics show the optimum number of intranet news stories per month. Too few and people don’t bother to check, too many and people won’t read them. The right answer? Around 15 stories a month.

The data collected covers all communications activity in the categories of employee engagement; campaigns & marketing; reputation; and press & media. As well as showing the big picture, it also tells us how successful individual pieces of communication are. For example, when the MoJ Story was launched on the intranet it was read by 3,727 people in the first week and 77% of these people clicked through to read the full story. (For net aficionados, this is a high “click through” rate). If you’d like to find out more about how the team are applying science to the art of communication, do get in touch with the team.


Do you have a suggestion for a part of the MoJ I should visit ? If so leave a comment below.

Meet the Team: Corporate Finance

Last week I visited the Corporate Finance team on the 10th floor of 102 Petty France.

Corporate Finance team

Corporate Finance team

As everyone in MoJ knows, we’re operating in a really difficult financial climate with a challenging budget settlement. The Corporate Finance team play a crucial role in ensuring that we are living within our means and are making plans to make sure we can continue to do so over the coming years.

During my visit I met people from a number of different teams, highlighting the breadth of work that the directorate is involved in – from ensuring that all policy advice to Ministers presents accurate and high quality financial advice to providing practical financial advice and support across the department through finance business partners. There’s very little that goes on in MoJ that doesn’t need technical advice or strategic support from the finance team and they are particularly busy with the priority change programmes which are transforming and modernising our services.

As you would expect, MoJ’s finance team are professional experts and they have an impressive overview of everything we do. Perhaps that explains why I got such a wide range of questions from the team – they were really interested in the challenges we face, and not just the financial ones.





Do you have a suggestion for a part of the MoJ I should visit ? If so leave a comment below.

Firsthand on the front line: Huge achievements in Midlands probation

Community Payback

Community Payback

I recently spent the day in Birmingham, visiting both the Staffordshire & West Midlands Community Rehabilitation Company and the Midlands division of the National Probation Service.

Transforming Rehabilitation is one of the department’s priority programmes, and since we launched the programme I have visited probation managers and front line staff to hear how the implementation of the reforms is progressing. The TR programme has lots of complex elements but the most important is the people – the people we serve and the people who work in probation. The people I met in the Midlands are working hard to manage the changes that are underway, whilst ensuring that the quality of their day to day work is maintained.

I received a firsthand update on the achievements and the challenges in moving from a probation trust structure to a Community Rehabilitation Company and National Probation Service structure. An enormous amount has been achieved already and the staff I met were clearly committed to delivering their ambition of creating safer communities by reducing reoffending.


Do you have a suggestion for a part of the MoJ I should visit ? If so leave a comment below.