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Spotlight: Brilliant civil servants - Civil Service Award winners 2019

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Civil Service Awards Champion Sir Richard Heaton, speaking at the awards ceremony
Civil Service Awards Champion Sir Richard Heaton, speaking at the awards ceremony

The 14th annual Civil Service Awards ceremony took place on Thursday 21 November at Lancaster House, in central London, hosted by Sir Richard Heaton, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice and Awards Champion.

The awards recognise excellence and achievement by teams and individuals, and commitment to the core Civil Service values. They reflect the full range of Civil Service activity, with categories ranging from Policy to Operational Delivery, from Commercial to Innovation and Science, and from Citizenship to Diversity and Inclusion.

From “gobsmacked”, “so pleased” and “incredibly proud”, to “very passionate”, “fantastic recognition” and “we’re not going to stop smiling for a fortnight”, the winners were full of excitement upon hearing their names announced. They all appeared to share the sentiment expressed neatly by one winner: “I never thought it would be me.”

We take a closer look at some of the 2019 winners and the work that won them their awards.

Life-changing opportunities

The Department for Education’s Care Leaver Policy Team and HR team took home the Developing People Award. Working together, they increased the work experience offering for people leaving the care system, providing these individuals with a valuable opportunity to experience the world of work and professional life in general, and employment in the Civil Service in particular.

These internships help participants to develop their work-based skills, increase their professional confidence, test their abilities, and consider pursuing a career in the Civil Service. The opportunities have been described as “life‑changing”.

Some 40% of care leavers aged 19 to 21 are not in education, employment or training, compared to 13% for this age group overall in the rest of society. The 2016 care leaver strategy, Keep on Caring, recommended that government departments and their agencies should play a greater role in offering work experience, traineeships, apprenticeships and jobs to care leavers.

Reaching out

The project team succeeded in getting buy-in from many government departments and private organisations in support of their aim.

The scheme in its current format started with a modest 15 care leavers, growing to 55 last year. This year, 225 internships are available across 25 departments around the country. As well as reaching out across government to develop the internship offers, the team worked with councils, charities and other organisations that work with care leavers, to encourage these individuals to apply for the internships and to support their applications.

The project team said of their success:

“We can make a huge impact by simply mobilising the support of our colleagues across government. A fairly modest scheme or policy measure can go on to mature and grow into something very powerful and impactful. Use the beneficiaries of the policy measure to help improve, design and promote it.”

Members of the Department for Education's Care Leaver Policy Team, with their Developing People Award, and award presenter Elizabeth Gardiner, First Parliamentary Counsel
Members of the Department for Education's Care Leaver Policy Team, with their Developing People Award, and (right) award presenter Elizabeth Gardiner, First Parliamentary Counsel

Going the extra mile

The recipient of the Citizenship Award was Mairi Macneil of the Department of Work and Pensions.

Mairi was nominated thanks to her work over many years with local charities and groups, which has helped in her daytoday role as a work coach at the Stornoway Jobcentre in the Outer Hebrides, where she has worked for 40 years.

During her Civil Service career, Mairi has created partnerships with voluntary groups and organisations, securing tens of thousands of pounds in funding for charities such as The Dyslexia Group, Enable, and Western Isles Carers, Users and Supporters Network. She works energetically to raise awareness of the causes she cares about, particularly the issues facing unpaid carers and service users around benefits, respite, adult carer support plans, and hospital and social care services.

Mairi currently works with 50 carers, providing personalised support within the local community.

The award was presented by Melanie Dawes, Permanent Secretary for the Department for Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. She praised Mairi for working “tirelessly to improve and support the services provided for disabled people and the caring community of the Western Isles”, and for campaigning with “enthusiasm, energy, determination and commitment” for the most vulnerable in the community, who are often unable to voice their needs and concerns.

Customer-focused digitalisation

The Digital Award was won by the team from Her Majesty’s Passport Office who developed the Digital Customer Service (DCS) for passport applicants. Presenting the award, Clare Moriarty, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU, noted that DCS has now received nearly five million applications, making it much easier for British citizens to apply for or renew their passport online.

DCS replaces “the complex, multi-section, paper form and the accompanying 27page guidance note” with a streamlined, online passport application system which is “designed around users’ needs to make application easier, quicker and more accurate”.

User satisfaction and savings

Since the change, on average, applications now take fewer than 10 minutes to complete and user satisfaction rates regularly top 95%. Because DCS helps HMPO to deliver processing savings, digital applications are also £9.50 cheaper than their paper alternatives. This has also allowed DCS to reduce postapplication follow-up to correct errors or request missing information by 50%, which will save £5 million per year. Scanning costs have also been reduced owing to 6.5 million paper documents being eliminated from applications per year, an annual saving of £2.6 million.

The team has also won an IT industry award. Its userfocused improvements included removing delays from the process by introducing online identity verification, allowing applicants to upload their own photograph, and having applicants sign their passport on receipt. This was particularly important in the run-up to the UK’s prospective departure from the EU in March 2019, when DCS was scaled to receive eight times the normal peak demand following media publicity about passport renewal dates.

The team’s success is attributable in part to its working culture. Neil Carne, Portfolio Director, has “always sought to help create an environment where people can feel valued and make a contribution using the skills and experience that they have”.

Making menopause support the norm

One group of civil servants was recognised for, in Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill’s words, “effectively serving twice”, as volunteers, above and beyond their professional roles. The Cross-Government Menopause Network won the Health & Wellbeing Award for its contribution to the welfare of the Civil Service community and wider society.

Established in 2017, the network promotes awareness and support in the workplace for colleagues going through the menopause, including launching a set of guiding principles and a toolkit for managers and colleagues.

Network chair Bernice Allport describes winning as recognition of how far the network has come in pushing its important agenda. She said: “Volunteering in a network that allows me to make a difference to the lives of my colleagues matters to me”.


The network consulted on a review of Civil Service Employee Policy’s Attendance Management Gateway product that has helped to make the Civil Service better for those going through the menopause. The review aimed to ensure that the menopause was fully reflected in the product, evaluating and supporting the CIPD’s guidance on ‘Managing the menopause at work’. This guidance was based largely on the legacy of the CrossGovernment Menopause Working Group, driving an agenda where the provision of menopause support will be the normal working experience for all women in generations to come.

Jonathan Jones, Head of the Government Legal Service, and Civil Service Health and Wellbeing Champion, presented the award and highlighted the network’s positive work in response to “both the lack of consistent, good quality support available for women experiencing menopausal symptoms across the Civil Service; and the provision of advice available for line managers to support health and wellbeing requirements on this issue”.

Fair and friendly

Tasked by the National Asylum Intake Unit with tackling an ongoing problem in the asylum process, the Midlands Intake Unit made “a significant improvement in the service to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and vulnerable adults at remote locations”. For this achievement, the Midlands team won the Public Service Award.

The process has helped to clear a backlog in asylum applications. Appointments are now offered weekly, rather than fortnightly, within a seven-day period, rather than three to four months, and lasting one hour, rather than four to five.

The Midlands Intake Unit created a simple referral mechanism and introduced regular stakeholder engagement with clear feedback loops. They also improved the consistency and quality of the production of Asylum Registration Cards, which allows customers prompt access to services, and developed asylum registration for Operation Innerste children that allows local authorities to quickly access funding.

“Positively impressed”

The team received positive comments after a visit by a Customer Service Excellence (CSE) assessor in early 2019. The UK Visas and Immigration CSE lead confirmed that “the assessor was positively impressed with our operation at Yarl’s Wood (and so were we!) and there may not be any improvement suggestions from him”. The assessor specifically commended the team’s method of flexible interviewing, which allows adjustments for children.

Duncan Gerrard, a Chief Immigration Officer (CIO) in the team, says that a key motivator for his work is “seeing that we have made a difference, and knowing that the vulnerable people we come into contact with now receive protection and greater customer service as a result of our process”.

The team put treating their customers with dignity and respect at the heart of the process they designed.

Some of the 2019 Civil Service Awards winners celebrating their success
Some of the 2019 Civil Service Awards winners at the awards ceremony

The value of partnership

Antonia Romeo, Permanent Secretary for the Department for International Trade, presented Cindy Kim with the Rising Star Award. This was a new category for 2019, recognising a civil servant who has made a significant impact in the first eight years of their Civil Service career.

Antonia highlighted Cindy’s “unflappable commitment, common sense and tremendous appetite for learning”, resulting in her being recognised by colleagues as “one of the best commercial officers in the [regional] network”. Cindy is credited with export wins in excess of £150 million since 2014. She also delivered one of the first mega-tech missions in the network in 2017, which was subsequently replicated elsewhere in the AsiaPacific region.

Personal development

Cindy is clear on the value of learning and development to career progression, and created Personal Development Plan materials which she shared with the Regional Learning & Development team. Along with her drive to create a dedicated L&D Room in the embassy in Seoul, this has benefited numerous colleagues both in Seoul and in the wider Asia‑Pacific region.

In her role as local and regional High Value Campaign (HVC) Champion, Cindy mentored all HVC owners as they worked through their forecasts and plans, spreading best practice in approaches to forecasting and encouraging innovative approaches to marketing. The positive impact on HVC delivery across the North East Asia Region was recognised by the UK sector and business planning teams.

Cindy puts great emphasis on the value of networking and partnerships which, along with “choosing your battles carefully”, she believes, allows you to focus on “what is essential and has a more significant impact”. She enjoys feeling that she is “in the right place to help and make a real difference to people’s lives and their businesses”.

You will find details of all the award winners at: winners

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  1. Comment by Marija Liudvika Drazdauskiene posted on

    Apart from appreciating the sense of discipline and organisation in Civil Service, I have made a special note of the award winners who were praised "for treating their customers with respect and dignity". I should also like to mention the self-appreciation of a High Value Campaign Champion who said that she is "in the right place to help and make a real difference to people's lives and their businesses". It all speaks of professional responsibility, concern for humanity and well-being of the people involved. Thank you very much.