How to modernise Whitehall

Foreign and Commonwealth Office CIO Tony Mather is modernising his historic corner of Whitehall... but would rather be in Milton Keynes.


Tony Mather is sitting in his large office near Horse Guards Parade amid the sorts of trappings you might expect for the CIO of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There are pictures, including one of the Queen; there are green-shaded desk lamps that look like they might have come from a film set; there is a leather sofa; and there is a gilt-framed mirror that must be seven feet high. All present and correct. So it comes as something of a surprise when he says that he'd rather be in a serviced office or even in Milton Keynes.

The FCO has offices in the famously unlovely Buckinghamshire new town and Mather says he would gladly "move to a Regus tomorrow".

"It's the team dynamic," he explains. "Heritage equals legacy and I want somewhere that locally engaged UK staff can sit together. We're trying to build the ‘one-team' approach."

And no matter how attractive and evocative of the British Empire's one-time pink-hued re-painting of the atlas, the warren of offices and corridors of power doesn't help build that dynamic.

"The day I joined the FCO my productivity halved," says Mather, who took on the role at the FCO from gases group BOC to make his bow in the public sector two years ago. "Here, if you were not at your desk, you weren't working."

Global refresh

The FCO employs about 16,000 people, 6000 of whom are UK-based and 10,000 locally engaged in over 160 countries with the mission to promote the UK's interests around the globe. Mather sees his task as breathing new life into the worldwide operation to enable new ways of working. "I'm trying to leapfrog," he says. "Improve work/life balance and leverage the workforce with the help of a technology refresh."

That refresh will also meet another ambition - that of dramatically reducing operational expense, he insists.

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