Safia works in policy for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Previously, she has worked on reducing reoffending policy at the Ministry of Justice and for a domestic abuse prevention charity. She is also interested in youth advocacy and led the youth UK delegation to the G7 in 2022. She has an MA in Liberal Arts from the University of Bristol.

In June 2023, I had the exciting opportunity of chairing the ‘Political Fish’ cohort’s Masterclass with Simon Ridley, the Second Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. The experience of chairing was a great development experience, helping to build my confidence in public speaking and managing high-level meetings. Leading the Masterclass in such a safe space with the support of my peers took away any nerves, and I really appreciated how engaged and prepared the Patchworkers were for the session. 

My top piece of advice is to keep an eye on the clock! Chairing a Masterclass is a great introduction to time management and multitasking. It tests you to remain engaged in what the speaker and participants are saying whilst also thinking ahead and making decisions on how much time you will need for the rest of the agenda.  

The Masterclass was a rare opportunity to talk candidly with a Senior Civil Servant, and the Patchworkers were keen to hear reflections on Simon Ridley’s impressive career in the Civil Service, including his current role as the second most senior civil servant in the Home Office. Before this, he led other high-profile and challenging policy issues that have really defined this decade. This encompasses heading up the Cabinet Office COVID-19 task force and holding leadership roles during Brexit negotiations. 

Alongside enormous experience in Government, Patchworkers got a unique insight into the relationship between central and local government as Simon Ridley reflected on his four years working as the Director General at the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government. As a former civil servant myself and now working for a public body, I was particularly interested in his views about how these relationships could work better. We discussed the importance of strong dialogue between different public bodies and the best ways to build partnerships with central government.

Even Patchworkers without specific experience or ambitions in the Civil Service gained a huge amount, and we appreciated Simon Ridley’s candour about how to build resilience in the workplace and tackle challenging issues. I have often encountered this in my professional experience of policy development so far, working on criminal justice issues. It was interesting to discuss key skills the group found useful when working in policymaking, including resilience and collaborative working. 

The variety of a senior civil servant’s daily activities was surprising and refreshing for the Patchworkers to hear. Lessons learnt by Simon Ridley while sharing an insight into a typical working day showed us what skills are required at high levels of leadership. Transferable skills that he championed, such as flexibility and preparing for situations to change at the drop of a ha, are useful in any sector. 

A particular highlight of the session was discussing what a modern Civil Service might look like and how ways of working might be adapted to better meet the needs of the 21st century. With so much policy dialogue usually focusing on current approaches or urgent issues, it was motivating to bring different generations of policy advocates together in a conversation on what is working well and what could be done better in the future. Two reflections that came out of the discussion struck me as particularly key: the role of technology in modern policymaking and how different areas of Government can collaborate better.

I resonated with this and am keen to further explore how policymakers can capitalise on technology and share data or research between departments for more effective, evidence-based policymaking. I would be keen to explore these ideas with my fellow Patchworkers and hear other perspectives and reflections on how we can shape the Civil Service for joined-up, evidence-based policymaking.

~ Safia Sangster, 2023 Masterclass Programme Participant