February’s L & D Blog

One of the films that I am very excited to see this year (while fully aware that it will be riddled with a fair few clichés) is Hidden Figures. Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, the film is billed as being ‘the incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanised the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big’.

I take issue with that last sentence. As inspiring as their story is in retrospect, the fact remains that the contributions made to the moon-landing by these remarkable women remained largely overlooked until quite recently. I haven’t watched it, but apparently they aren’t featured in the 1995 film Apollo 13.

This all got me reflecting on a number of issues that warrant serious consideration in a forum that isn’t my intentionally light L&D blog! However, the idea is an interesting one it set me off in search of more ‘hidden figures’ whose contributions to the world have gone relatively uncelebrated.

Please enjoy some of the images and quotes below, and remember to email me with your answers to the riddles for a chance to win some chocolate!

Lastly, here’s to everyone out there, quietly ploughing away, getting things* done.

*used as a substitute for the more appropriate swear word. Intentionally light, see?


Starring: Janelle Monáe, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer

In this Edition…

1. Fun and Games
2. BEIS and DCLG events
3. CLoG and beyond: speakers and events
4. News and Reviews

1. Fun and Games

Competition time: there are six riddles below and the first person to email me with the correct answers for all six will win chocolate…

Rule: Do not cheat by conferring with others or searching for the answers online!

Riddle 1

When I was 10, my sister was half my age. When I am 100, how old will my sister be?

Riddle 2

A robber steals $100 from the till of a shop. The shoplifter returns to the shop the next day and uses the stolen money to purchase $70 worth of goods. The shopkeeper gives the robber $30 back. How much money has the shopkeeper lost in total?

Riddle 3

You will always find me in the past. I can be created in the present, But the future can never taint me. What am I?

Riddle 4

What belongs to you but others use it more than you do?

Riddle 5

A murderer is condemned to death. He has to choose between three rooms. The first is full of raging fires, the second is full of assassins with loaded guns, and the third is full of lions that haven’t eaten in 3 years. Which room is safest for him?

Riddle 6

What can travel around the world while staying in a corner?

Katherine Johnson Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

Former NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson is seen after President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in WashingtonImage: NASA/Bill Ingalls

2. BEIS and DCLG events


Legal Awareness month

February is Legal Awareness month!  Throughout February members of the department’s Legal team will be delivering events to demystify various legal topics and provide you with the right level of information to help you in your jobs.

Wednesday 15 February Public Sector Equality Duty – A Legal Awareness session

Tuesday 21 February Judicial review and the Duty of Candour – Legal Awareness session

Tuesday 21 February Introduction to statutory instruments – Legal Awareness session

Thursday 23 February Legal risk and good decision making – Legal Awareness session

Tuesday 28 February Introduction to bills – Legal Awareness session

Tuesday 28 February Advanced bills – Legal Awareness session


Beatrice Tinsley was responsible for breakthrough discoveries on how galaxies moved with time but her name is virtually unknown outside academic circles. Born in England, she spent most of her schooling in New Zealand before moving to Texas, achieving recognition for her work by the late 1970s.

IT skills

The below range from events for beginners and people wishing to develop their basic skills to those looking to build on existing knowledge and understanding:

Wednesday 15 February:  Smart ways of working with IT and telephony

Thursday 16 and Wednesday 22 February:  Despatch Box session

Wednesday 15 February: Introduction to Excel

Thursday 16 February: Word for beginners

Monday 20 February: Yammer basics

Tuesday 21 February: Microsoft OneNote basics

Wednesday 22 February: PowerPoint

Tuesday 28 February: Demystifying mapping

Tuesday 7 March: Demystifying databases

Parliamentary Insights

Do you want to understand how Parliament works? Do you want insights to help you in your job?

Join Civil Service Learning for Parliamentary Insights, a new series of seminars replacing Parliament Explained (previously managed by UK Parliament Outreach and Engagement Service).

There are two sets of seminars: one for SCS staff and one for all staff who are interested.

Seminars cover the following topics:

  • Introduction to Parliament
  • Primary legislation
  • Delegated legislation
  • Select Committees
  • Debates and voting
  • Pre and post legislative scrutiny
  • Parliamentary Questions

How to sign up

Register for seminars on Eventbrite:

Other events

Wednesday 22 February

Tuesday 28 February

The dates for this year’s Civil Service Live have been announced

This annual, cross-department learning event, invites thousands of civil servants to regional events to learn, network and share best practice.

Content this year is focused on the themes of the Civil Service vision and will highlight the progress departments have made working to achieve the vision of becoming ‘A Brilliant Civil Service’.

The events will take place on the following dates, at these locations:

Thursday 8 June: EICC, Edinburgh

Thursday 15 June: Manchester Central, Manchester

Tuesday 20 June: The Sage, Gateshead

Thursday 29 June: City Hall, Cardiff

Thursday 6 July: NEC, Birmingham

Tuesday 11 and Wednesday 12 July: QEII Centre, London

Registration opens in April, when the programme will be published, so keep an eye on the intranet for more details at that time. In the meantime, make a note of the date of your local event so you can keep it free.


Alan Turing was a soldier who helped crack the Nazi wartime code Enigma at Station X in Bletchley Park. Cracking the enigma code shortened World War II by an estimated two years, saving thousands of lives. Turing’s ideas catapulted algorithms and automatic processing to the forefront of computing theory. Instead of being celebrated as a hero, Turing was discriminated against by the state. Turing was gay at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offence in the UK. He ended his life at 41 by taking a cyanide. Andrew Hodges, author of the biography on which the 2014 film The Imitation Game was based, criticised the film for downplaying Turing’s daily struggle against anti-LGBT discrimination as a gay man working for the British state.


Pairing For Performance Drop-In Session – 14 February, 2017 12:30 pm

This scheme gives you the opportunity to observe and give feedback to a member of the SCS and it allows you to improve your feedback skills.

Induction into Energy and Climate Change – 20 February, 2017 10:00 am

This seminar is for all staff new to BEIS and existing staff who need an overview of the work of the Department.

Financing of low-carbon energy technologies in Europe – crossing the Commercialisation Valley of Death – 22 February, 2017 10:00 am

All staff within BEIS with an interest in existing financial support schemes in Europe for innovative low-carbon TRL 7/8 energy technologies (Technology Readiness Level), market conditions affecting innovative projects and key success factors for attracting private sector financing.

How to Review the Quality of Evidence Properly – 2 March, 2017 2:00 pm

This seminar starts by covering the common misuse of the terms, ‘literature review’ and ‘evidence review’, and then shows how evidence quality can be assessed quantitatively to determine what evidence is deemed to be of a high enough quality to inform policy development.

Introduction to behavioural insights in BEIS – 16 March, 2017 2:00 pm

This seminar is primarily focused at policy people, but is available for all BEIS staff.

A full list of upcoming BEIS Learning and Development events can be found here.

Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott king: when her husband, Dr Martin Luther King, was assassinated in April of 1968, the young widow and mother of four stepped right into the role of “First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement,” fearlessly championing the mission she and her husband had helped to launch. Coretta worked to make her husband’s birthday a national holiday in the US and anyone currently keeping up with US politics, or using Twitter, will see how her activism has continued to have influence. 

3. CLoG and Beyond

LGBT History month events

LGBT History Month – Stonewall Talk on ‘Inclusive Workplace Practice and the Importance of Allies/Networks’

Monday 13th February at 2pm until 2.30pm in Conference Room 3B (PG48)

The 1967 Act and Beyond: a tale of North and South

Wednesday 15 February 2017 7:00PM to 9:00PM

This talk marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act which partially decriminalised homosexuality, and launches the Opening Doors London “ODL50” programme.

A full list of events covering: London, South East, Midlands, South West and Yorkshire can be found here: http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/national-festival/national-festival-events/

BAME Network

Pathway to achieving your goals – Action Learning Sets – hosted by BAMEnet

Open to all colleagues at AA to SEO grades

This is an opportunity to get together with your peers, where you have a mutual concern or issue, you would like to address or resolve in a safe environment.

Each Action Learning Set will consist of 4 – 6 attendees and each set will have three sessions to discuss issues of personal and mutual importance.  They are designed to deal with the specific needs of the set participants and will require agreed action by the end of each meeting.  Each set will be facilitated and participants will need to make a commitment to attend all the sessions in their set.

Self-belief and building confidence

Unblocking your career potential

Raising your profile


Indian classical singer MS Subbulakshmi. Born in 1916 into the Devadasi tradition – a lineage of temple courtesans, whose job was to entertain and serve rich and upper-caste men – she built a career that took her from Madurai temple custom to film stardom to the embodiment of independent India’s national culture. Once her prodigious gift was recognised, she broke with her mother and her home town, took a renowned musician and then a canny manager as lovers, and sought out the musicians she admired most, to help develop her talent. The few letters of hers not destroyed by image keepers are rife with attitude and passion. But her public persona was, and remains – she died aged 88 in 2004 – that of a demure housewife whose accomplishments were simply visited upon her by the gods.

Civil Service START: Round the Houses

Free tours of Parliament – 15th and 16th February – book here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cs-start-round-the-houses-tickets-31806892271

WIG events

Women’s Leadership: Purpose, Power & PromotionTuesday 21 February 2017, 09:30 – 16:30

Breakfast briefing: Jacqueline Minor, Head of Representation, Representation of the European Commission on the UK – Wednesday 22 February

Industrial strategy series breakfast briefing: David Hill, Director, Apprenticeships Directorate, Department for Education – Thursday 23 February

Take Control of Your CareerMonday 27 Feb – Tuesday 28 Feb

WIG Smart Cities ForumWednesday 01 March 2017

Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator, Financial Times – Monday 06 March 2017, 17:30-19:30

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer – Health at Work15 March 2017, 08:00 – 10:00


Betty Shabbaz, wife of Malcolm X, and Civil Rights activist and nurse. Following Malcolm X’s assassination, Betty was left to raise six children by herself and went on to pursue an impressive higher education. In late 1969, Shabazz completed an undergraduate degree at Jersey City State College, followed by a doctoral degree in higher-education administration at the University of Massachusetts. She then accepted a position as an associate professor of health sciences at New York’s Medgar Evers College. She worked as a university administrator and fund-raiser until her death.


A Lecture by Ruth Davidson

Monday 13 February 2017, 6:30PM to 8:00PM

Ruth Davidson will use the lecture to speak about the fresh case for the United Kingdom in the wake of the Brexit vote.  

Messy: How to be creative and resilient in a tidy-minded world

Monday 20 February 2017 7:00PM to 8:30PM

The Impact of Brexit on the City of London

Monday 20 February 2017 6:30PM to 7:45PM

Lindsey Naylor will discuss the impact of Brexit on the financial services sector. Lindsey Naylor is a partner in Oliver Wyman’s Global Corporate & Institutional Banking practice, based in London.

Europe’s Growth Challenge

Monday 27 February 2017 7:45PM to 9:00PM


Bayard Rustin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on March 17, 1912. He moved to New York in the 1930s and was involved in pacifist groups and early civil rights protests. Combining non-violent resistance with organisational skills, he was a key adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. Though he was arrested several times for his own civil disobedience and open homosexuality, he continued to fight for equality. He died in New York City on August 24, 1987.

Inside Government

Preventing and Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls

28 March 2017 09:00-16:20 Hallam Conference Centre, Central London

Delivering and Investing in Future Infrastructure Projects

29 March 2017 08:45-16:40 Central Birmingham

The Future of Housing Supply 2017

30 March 2017 08:45-16:20 Congress Centre, Central London

Raising Education Standards and Attainment Across the Northern Powerhouse

30 March 2017 8:45-16:20 Central Manchester, Manchester

Raising Education Standards and Attainment Across the Midlands

30 March 2017 09:00-15:40, Central Birmingham

Reducing the Risk and Impact of Flooding

27 April 2017 8:45-16:20 Central London


Malak Nifni Nassef (1886-1918): An early feminist who scored a number of impressive firsts in Egypt: the first woman to get a degree from a government college, the first woman to lecture publicly, and – at the age of only 13 – the first to publish poetry in a mainstream journal. Today, though, she is largely forgotten and overshadowed by Hoda Sha’rawi who is widely considered to be founder of the modern Arab feminist movement.

Public Service Transformation Academy

Join the debate on Developing the Social Care Market … at a conference on 6th April in partnership with the LGA. Speakers include Benjamin Taylor, Chief Executive of the PSTA, Fiona Richardson of the IPC at Oxford Brookes University and a panel of social care providers from the voluntary and private sectors. Apply here.

MOOC – Future Learn

Current courses:

Smart Cities

Explore the role of technology and data in cities, and learn how you can participate in the creation of smart cities

Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing: Find out how poems, plays and novels can help us understand and cope with deep emotional strain in this free online course.

Courses starting soon:

Business Fundamentals: Effective Networking: Learn how to build and sustain your network to enhance your professional relationships and open up career opportunities.

Systems Thinking and Complexity: Learn how to use systems and complexity thinking to address a variety of social, managerial and policy problems.

Management and Leadership – Leading a Team: Develop a business plan and build a team with one of two courses in the Management and Leadership program

Ethical Cities – Shaping the Future of Your City: Understand the problems cities face and learn how they can be resolved with ethical solutions

The Mind is Flat: the Shocking Shallowness of Human Psychology: Make better personal and professional decisions, considering the psychological dimension to choices, with this free online course (date TBA)


Irena Sendlerowa was named a national hero by Poland in 2007 for her secret work in the Warsaw ghetto. As a social worker, she smuggled children out through sewers and in suitcases and boxes, saving 2,500 Jewish babies and children from the Nazi death camps. Photograph: Stach Antkowiak/AFP

4. News and reviews

A fuel injection for the Midlands Engine

Katie Jenkins reflects on what motivated her to get involved with helping the Midlands Engine team produce their strategy:

Having been an Area Lead for four years, I had started to worry that my ‘policy’ skills were getting a bit out of shape and had been scouting around for a while for something that might exercise them. I had been involved in developing strategy-type documents in my early civil service career at DfT, so I guessed it was likely to involve a lot of high level manoeuvring between Ministers and departments, collaboration with a wide range of officials, lots of contact with private office and drafting, of course. This one would have the added excitement of strong interest from number 10 and a high profile business leader heading up a veritable smorgasbord of local stakeholders, far wider and more diverse than those I am used to working with in Gloucestershire. So I put my hand up and fortunately my line manager and DD agreed to release me from my usual duties to temporarily support the work.

In contrast to previous strategies I had been involved in, this one was to be developed in collaboration with the local Midlands Engine partners. My objective was to co-locate with the local team producing the strategy and support them to develop something that would both excite HMG and get wide buy-in locally. But this was nothing if not a fast-paced and changing area of work, and it was soon decided that the strategy would be a high-level, government narrative, written by us to an Autumn Statement timetable – a sister document to the government’s Northern Powerhouse strategy, to which local partners would respond on a longer timeframe.

As a team, we wrote the strategy, during which time I took on the task of trying to secure commitments from across Whitehall on skills. This was easier said than done, for a whole host of reasons we can probably all relate to (Ministerial priorities, budgetary pressures, resource issues – it’s a familiar list). I’m sure the time I spent getting told off for our (necessarily but insanely compressed) Whitehall write-round deadline was ‘character building’.

Whilst we were writing the strategy, the Midlands Engine geography (always somewhat blurred) changed when SEMLEP decided to withdraw from the formal partnership. I set about documenting in a spread sheet every statistic in the strategy, on which geography it was based and what the various different geographies actually meant. It’s a somewhat dubious accolade but one I will take nonetheless: I’ve been told that no-one on the team will ever see a Midlands Engine statistic again without thinking of me. They should also think of analyst Alex Lim, who was a hero on this.

At the time of writing, the strategy is back with number 10. Local stakeholders anticipate it with baited breath and are considering how they might respond with their own ambitious vision and action plan. I return to my Area Lead duties, musing whether I might be able to convince Gloucestershire to join the Midlands Engine. They’re not really in the South West, but that is another story…

So what did I learn? First and foremost, I learnt what it was like to work with a new team, a different DD with a different style and some very talented individuals (special mentions to Charlotte May and Rachel Dickenson). I got to see some of the inner workings of number 10 and Treasury, and to understand on a very practical level that just because something is really important to us, or even to number 10, others won’t necessarily be empowered to help. It’s testament to the persistence and skill of people in this Unit that we get so much collaborative work done. I made some good contacts outside of my usual geography and brought my relationship management skills to bear in strengthening the lines of communication between the core local Midlands Engine team and our Unit. My part-time hours were a challenge at times, because it was such a fast-paced and ever-changing area. I could turn up after two days off and the whole plan had changed! But we worked around it and found a rhythm, which I think was a positive learning curve on both sides. Part-time working shouldn’t be a barrier to supporting something high-profile in the Unit, and we should actively seek and support these sorts of opportunities for anyone who wants them, as Rowena and Diarmid did for me. It helps to cement central/local working too!

Ultimately my stint with Midlands Engine helped me to build confidence that I can try my hand at something different and add value; that I can use the skills I already have in a different setting and stretch myself in a different direction. And I return to South Central and West with some fantastic insights into how regional collaboration is working in the Midlands, just as the South West Turbine (or whatever it shall be called) begins to turn. All brilliant reasons to step out of the comfort zone.

A fortnight is a long time in Politics…

Sam McCaffrey reflects on his parliamentary experiences so far

While sketching out my new role leading on all things Parliamentary for CLoG, I set myself a target of going to Westminster at some point to see our policies in action if or when the opportunity arose. It didn’t take long – within days we had 2 Westminster Hall Debates, DCLG Orals and also a Private Members bill going through the house.

I got to go in the officials’ box for the Westminster Hall Debates and for the Parking (Variation in charges) Bill in both the committee rooms & the Commons chamber, whilst also sitting in the stranger’s gallery for DCLG Oral question time. All of this within two weeks!

I met the MP who was taking the Parking Bill through the Commons along with some Ministers from DCLG and got a real sense of the relationship between civil servants and ministers.

The message I want to give is that there is an array of opportunities within the unit to get involved with and the best way to learn is to see things first-hand.

If you don’t ask you don’t get. Take some time to see what another policy team are working on, offer some of your time. You never know where you might end up sitting – in my case it was a few metres from the Speaker!

An update from GRAD

Though the focus of the GRAD team in recent months has been to get the Orders creating mayoral combined authorities through Parliament (a process which is on-going), we have also been working to ensure the regulations by which the combined authority mayors are elected are in place for the first elections in May. We are very pleased that the Order enabling these regulations to be applied was made on the 30th January.

We needed new regulations as the combined authority mayors are subject to slightly different requirements which set them apart from other local authority elections. The deposit required in order to stand is £5000, which is higher than the general local authority deposit due to the greater area covered and the increased powers given to the mayors. It is also in line with Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), which is important as the combined authority mayors can also hold the post of PCC. Combined authority mayoral candidates must also get at least 100 signatures in order to be nominated to stand, with at least 10 of these coming from each local authority within the combined authority. This ensures they have support from all areas, not just a couple. It’s a higher requirement than is in place for other local government elections, for the same reasons as the higher deposit. We also needed to establish the post of CARO, to make sure there was one individual with responsibility for the elections, to act almost as a project manager. Other than these requirements and some other minor differences, the new regulations are consistent with regulations governing all other local authority elections.

Now that these regulations are in place, the CAROs can apply the above requirements to the candidates and run the elections in a way which is consistent with other elections, but reflective of the greater powers and responsibilities of combined authority mayors.

Our other major achievement in the last month is the making of the snappily-titled Combined Authorities (Overview and Scrutiny Committees, Access to Information and Audit Committees) Order 2017. Following a smooth (even positive!) passage through the Commons and the Lords, the legislation providing the basis for accountability in combined authorities was made on 9th February and comes into force when the new mayors take office on 8th May. Essentially, this builds on the provisions in the 2016 Act and sets out further detail on the overview and scrutiny and audit committees in combined authorities, meaning there will be a robust and consistent approach to accountability in all combined authorities. The legislation was welcomed by the Lords for putting in place a clear framework to ensure that once powers and budgets are devolved, and mayors elected, their actions and decisions (and those of the combined authority) will be openly and effectively scrutinised.


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