A life in the day of Britain's Bill Gates;FE Focus

28th May 1999 at 01:00
It seemed more like taking coals to Newcastle than finding solutions for a large department when the DFEE's finest met the man from Microsoft. Chris Johnston reports.

IT WAS almost a case of taking coals to Newcastle as the UK chairman of the omnipresent software company Microsoft talked about his job swap with the Department for Education and Employment's top civil servant.

David Svendsen of Microsoft described the demonstration of information technology by the DFEE as "genuinely insightful" during his day playing the part of the department's permanent secretary Michael Bichard.

The DFEE officers told Mr Svendsen that technology was helping them to think about new ways of doing things. "This is where organisations, public or private, should be basing their thinking, but to get a statement like that from a civil service department was genuinely surprising but excellent news," he said.

That was not Mr Svendsen's only change in thinking about the DFEE after the day in which he and Mr Bichard had attended to Microsoft business in the morning, followed by meetings with David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, and civil service staff in the afternoon.

"I probably had a stereotypical view of a civil servant, but that has changed as a consequence of today," he admitted. The inclusion of "empowerment" in the DFEE's values programme was something he would expect in the private sector, but not a government department.

Mr Bichard, responsible for fusing the separate departments of education and employment four years ago, has strived to make the DFEE more flexible and responsive. Mr Svendsen thinks he has succeeded: "Some private organisations don't have the sense of speed and flexibility that the DFEE is perhaps showing in recent times," he said.

He conceded that the civil service had been guilty of being too arrogant and believing it knew best: "We need to develop more constructive partnerships."

Mr Bichard felt it had been helpful to get a different perspective on what the department was doing in the real world and discovering that some initiatives were not progressing as well as he had hitherto believed.

He also found that the chasm between the public and private sectors is "not as great as sometimes people suggest that it is", a comment Mr Svendsen echoed.

It is likely that both enjoyed the experience more than another DFEE mandarin, Nick Stuart, the director general of employment, lifelong learning and international directorate, who spent a morning on the reception desk of the department's Sanctuary Buildings.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today