Agility, balance and risk taking

He's not a man accustomed to the spotlight, having done his work behind closed doors for many years. But the top mandarin in the Welsh civil service, Permanent Secretary Derek Jones has stepped (briefly) out of the shadows to give his thoughts on the future for the 5,000 strong Welsh Government workforce.

A typical Yes Minister Sir Humphrey? Well, yes and no. The sharp suit and tie and considered, scrupulously politically-neutral manner would suggest yes. But at the same time, while Sir Humphrey had a palatial office in a grand Whitehall building, Mr Jones has a simple desk in an open plan office the same size as the other hundred or so civil servants sharing his floor in Cathays Park.

And he was keen to talk about the Complexity Hotline he set up soon after arriving as Permanent Secretary late last year, which enabled any civil servant to phone his desk with suggestions for getting rid of red tape and overly-bureaucratic procedures across government. How many calls so far? It would be overly-bureaucratic to count, but he was keen to show pages and pages of plans to ditch logjams across the organisation. Not for him the Yes Minister mantra "red tape holds the nation together".

But red tape has its place - and the Welsh Government could have done with more on it in several instances identified by the Wales Audit Office recently where public money was wasted or went astray. Mr Jones confronted the questions head on - the handling of the race equality charity Awema had been a "systemic failure" for the civil service, he admitted and the Welsh Government "could have done better and should do better in future".

There's the tension, then, between freeing up civil servants from endless box ticking, multiple approval procedures, making them able to be more agile and decisive, and making sure that the right safeguards are in place given that the scrutiny on public spending is increasingly close as austerity bites.

In short - which bits of red tape can you safely get rid of, and which are there as an essential safety net? That's the dilemma he's grappling with at the moment.

You can see more of the interview here, but keep watching to the end when he reveals what he did to relax, away from the policy, legislation and red tape.

His answer would certainly not have come from Sir Humphrey: "I quite like surfing down at Llangennith, really badly, but I love it in the waves, and if my head is full of stuff as it sometimes is, obviously I find that if I get into the water with the board by the time I've come out I'm feeling more relaxed".

"I play the guitar, blues guitar, which probably doesn't show either, and I find that a good way to relax".

So there you have it. The surfing, blues guitar playing red tape busting civil servant, who aims for agility, balance and risk taking in both work and play - and who is now back in the shadows.