The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has responsibility for food, farming, environmental, fisheries, forestry and sustainability policy in Northern Ireland. It is also responsible for the development of the rural sector.

DAERA is the lead Northern Ireland Civil Service department on food supply, agri-food trade and the environment. It plays a critical role in ensuring an effective food supply chain and maintaining food security. This role is important for the UK’s EU exit, as the department’s policy and delivery activity will contribute to implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.

My current role centres on preparing board reports and key financial information on a monthly basis. These are presented to the board to show a snapshot of departmental performance and to enable vital strategic decisions to be made. I also engage in cashflow forecasting and make key decisions on the department’s cash requirements, providing robust challenge to ensure the efficient use of public funds.

Since joining the public sector in 2018, I have learned how complex and diverse it is. I also see how this affects decision-making, as well as how the impact of what I do on a daily basis contributes to changing the lives of local communities.

In response to Covid-19, the department has faced a number of challenges to keep the food supply chain moving when the country entered lockdown. It has also had to ensure meat inspections, water-quality monitoring and payments continue to be carried out. The department has developed new ways of working with stakeholders to ensure that sufficient support is available to DAERA’s direct offices.

For me personally, the biggest work change has been adapting to working from home full time. As I started my current role in May 2020, this has been particularly challenging in terms of training remotely and getting to know the dynamics of a new team.

What I’m particularly looking forward to this year is being able to travel abroad to the sunshine. I might even get to begin the walk on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, which I had planned to do in 2020.

The most important business lesson I have learned in my career is never stop learning. Don’t be afraid to take the first step, no matter how small it may seem. Don’t be afraid of hard work. And, most importantly, recognise that your health is your wealth.