Today I say goodbye to my amazing, supportive and clever colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care. Its been a great experience and I’ve grown a lot. Here are my reflections and some things I’ve learnt…

  1. The language is different. The Civil Service (CS) uses different words and words differently.
  • Readouts: are meeting notes. They are not minutes. Readouts are notes taken by individuals from their perspective. If 5 people attend a meeting, there might be 5 readouts.
  • Commissions: these are asks to deliver tasks. They are not related to tendering and contracting. They are descriptions of what you need to do, by when.
    *Submissions: are ministerial papers with brief rationales for change and clear requests for decisions
  • Briefings: are preparatory notes given to a specific person before a specific meeting or event.
  • Clearance: is the term given to senior sign-off, authorisation or agreement.
  • Box: when people ask what time a Ministers box closes, they mean the deadline by which a submission can be received – to the inbox these days, but no doubt there would have been a physical box many years ago
  • Grid slot: I’m still not certain, but I think this is a slot in the wider governmental diary of events and happenings. Please someone correct me if I’m wrong!
  1. Developing policy has three phases: building, testing and clearing. Each phase requires significant stakeholder engagement with bodies and experts who can provide expert input, advice and guidance.
  2. Coming in at a senior level is hard. Before I joined the CS, I spoke to someone who had recently retired to get his advice. He told me that it was difficult to get in to the CS unless you were an expert in your field or you’d ‘grown up’ in the service. What a miserable perspective, I thought, but now, I perfectly understand what he meant.

To be able to really understand what needs to be done and what comes next in the process, you definitely need a few years’ experience of working in the CS. You need to have been immersed in the language and processes to understand them to lead and direct a team well.

Stepping in at a senior level with no prior knowledge of the way things are done is not easy and now I get his point. You’re diving into a sea of people who already know the way the tide is flowing.

There are commonalities of structure and corporate processes across the public service organisations of the NHS and local government. These are not common to the CS.

The defining question: would I go back to the CS again? Yes. I think I would.

The first 5 months were the hardest when I didn’t know the words, didn’t understand the processes and didn’t have a reputation preceding me so that others knew I was capable. But now I’ve done it for a year, I know I could do it again. Next time I would do it better, slicker and with more confidence!

Who knows what the world will bring. I have 15-20 years left in the world of work. A lot can happen in that time….