When you walk into the DWP’s offices in Westminster, you are greeted with a montage of Male, Pale and Stale mug-shots of politicians and permanent secretaries who are the DWP’s big wigs. Very 1980s – very Sir Humphrey!
But that’s where MPS ends!
I turned up yesterday – suited and booted – as I was seeing the Head of Pension Reform.
The Head of Pension Reform, who used to be the senior pensions adviser at the Treasury came down to greet me, asked me if I minded walking up to the first floor and offered me tea. “Tea”, in such circles, usually means summoning a flunky to deliver your something in a bone china mug. But not with Charlotte Clark.
Tea for Charlotte Clark means a visit to the kitchen, washing up a couple of mugs, getting your bottle of milk from the fridge and doing that teabag trick which only women can manage -extricating the tea bag from the cup without spilling tea on the work surface.
Now all this happened just after 8 am so that I could get a full hour with her to put my questions to her. Which is pretty considerate! But by the time I’d sat down with Charlotte in the lunch area, we were already well into our first topic – why doesn’t this happen more?
Instead of the expected intimidation, I found myself listening to Charlotte delighting in her staff. She told me of a guy who has worked on auto-enrolment since 2007 who refuses to be taken off the project and has pledged to work through till AE is business as usual in 2019.
And when we talked she knew everything- about our three campaigns at FofAE , about the guidance guarantee and new annuity options, about the minimum standards for workplace pensions and about how CDC could be integrated into the new pension framework.
“Open Government” isn’t an idea, it’s an action and when you see it in action, as I did yesterday, you realise just how powerful it can be!
People we passed on our way in and out of the building wanted to say hi! to Charlotte but she got their first, she didn’t act like a boss – except she was.
As I left, I saw how badly that montage of MPS needed her up there! That’s no criticism of Steve Webb or IDS or even the Sir Humphrey types who still get their mugs in the frame. But I will remember the mugs that Charlotte washed for our tea with much more affection!