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Wednesday 29 July 2020

“Across the public sector, people get out of bed in the morning to make the world a better place.”

Former DExEU and Defra Permanent Secretary Clare Moriarty delivered a talk to nearly 400 FDA members in which she spoke of the importance of civil service leaders always remembering their “honesty, empathy and humanity.”

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Stefano Cagnoni

In a wide-ranging online discussion, chaired by outgoing FDA President Fiona Eadie, Moriarty reflected on her own long career in the civil service and answered questions from members on the challenges facing the service today, including its response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

She argued that work around diversity and inclusion has never been more essential than at this time of crisis, “as people perform at their best when they feel safe, and that is what diversity and inclusion does”. She also reflected on how, throughout her time in leadership roles in the civil service, she had always sought to give emotion its proper place and ensure that her departments were safe spaces and people-focused.

On the theme of leadership, Moriarty recalled her early career at the Department of Health, where she built a reputation as someone with an attraction to problems that needed fixing. She always maintained a commitment to listening to different voices to understand what wasn’t working and finding a way of adding value to the team she was leading, making the point that real leadership “is making it possible for other people to do their best work” and that leaders should always remember “to only do what only you can do.”

Moriarty’s definition of leadership came to the fore as the Permanent Secretary at DExEU when the department was wound down in January. One of her primary tasks was to deliver a “good exit” for 800 people, about whom she said “I can personally vouch for the quality of the people and the pain of their experience.” She understood that it was very hard for those who had built up the department to then have to dismantle it, and that it was vital to “treat people like grown-ups, not to sugar coat”, and to create a proper place for feelings and emotions at an incredibly challenging time.

Throughout all this, she told our members how she always sought to retain her individuality and refused to give up her red shoe laces, a theme she had originally explored in a speech to the FDA’s Women into Leadership conference.

On civil service values, Moriarty argued that the service remained a “values driven organisation” but that “there are a lot of values around, and some of them conflict with each other.” However, she maintained that honesty, integrity and impartiality remain central to the work of the civil service.

She concluded: “One of the things I found across the public sector - people get out of bed in the morning to make the world a better place”.

A recording of this event is also available for any members who missed out - please get in touch at info@fda.org.uk.

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