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Pandemic heroes dominate New Year Honours List 2021

The New Year Honours List 2021 is remarkable for its recognition of those who have excelled during the Covid-19 public health emergency, including digital and data professionals

The New Year Honours List 2021 was notable for its recognition of workers in the public and private sectors who went the extra mile during the Covid-19 public health pandemic.

These include digital and data professionals working for supermarket chain Asda. Daniel Owens, online grocery development manager at Asda Stores, was awarded an MBE for “services to retail customers during the Covid-19 Response”, as was Connor Wilkinson, head of e-commerce data at Asda.

Sarah Cairns, senior programme manager at Asda Online Grocery, was awarded a BEM for services to vulnerable customers during the Covid-19 response. Asda is headquartered in Leeds, and the Yorkshire Post reported that Cairns was: “Instrumental in making sure those the government identified as extremely vulnerable, unable to get out and without a support network, had access to essentials. She played a huge role in setting up a specific delivery pass (called the priority pass) for extremely vulnerable customers.”

Asda data scientists James Cameron and Rafal Olbert also received BEMs for services to vulnerable customers during the Covid-19 response.

Richard Sercombe, data technologist at food distribution company Brakes, is another data scientist whose work during the pandemic has been rewarded, in his case with an MBE.

As reported by the Manchester Evening News: “Ricky, 48, has been at the heart of delivering the government scheme to provide 450,000 food parcels a week to clinically extremely vulnerable individuals during the Covid-19 crisis.

“His role was to provide the underlying data flow that had the effect of ensuring this acutely vulnerable group never faced the decision to leave home or starve by providing emergency food within days.”

Sercombe worked through hundreds of thousands of lines of government report data to create a delivery schedule. According to the Manchester Evening News report, he spent many hours cleaning data, beyond his contracted hours.

Hailing the list, prime minister Boris Johnson said: “In a year when so many have made sacrifices to protect our NHS and save people’s lives, the outstanding efforts of those receiving honours today are a welcome reminder of the strength of human spirit, and of what can be achieved through courage and compassion.

“The 2021 New Year Honours offer us an opportunity to salute their dedication and recognise many who have gone above and beyond in their contribution to our country.”

The list is billed as the most ethnically diverse honours list yet, with 14.2% of recipients coming from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.

The list includes 1,239 recipients selected at BEM, MBE and OBE level: 397 at BEM, 476 at MBE and 250 at OBE. A total of 603 women are recognised in the list, representing 49% of the total, while 6.9% of the successful candidates consider themselves to have a disability and 4% of recipients identify as being LGBT+.

On the security front, Lynne Owens, director general of the National Crime Agency, received a DCB (Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath) for her work, since 2016, leading the agency to arrest more than 5,000 criminals, putting them in prison for more than 11,000 years. She has been the UK’s representative on the global Five Eyes Law Enforcement Group Committee and Interpol, and is reportedly a “passionate advocate for increased diversity within the Agency and across the wider national security community”.

Public sector workers make up 14.8% of the list and include firefighters, medical professionals, teachers, police officers and local government workers – all of whom are said to be recognised for “making a huge individual impact, and in particular in the response to Covid-19”.

Azeem Alam, a 28-year-old doctor from Harpenden, received a BEM for founding BiteMedicine, which provides free medical education for medical students, physician associates and trainee doctors during Covid, teaching more than 10,000 students worldwide via online, live webinars.

Others from the UK technology industry community to be recognised include:

Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB)

  • Kenneth (Kenny) Robertson, digital director at the Department for Work and Pensions. For services to government technology.

Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)

  • Russell (Russ) Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates. For services to technology and to business in London.
  • Sembukuttiarachilage Ravi Pradip Silva (Ravi Silva), director of the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey. For services to science, education and research.
  • Christopher Woolard, lately interim chief executive for the Financial Conduct Authority. For services to financial regulation and financial technology innovation.

Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)

  • Phillipa Spencer, senior principal statistician at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. For services to defence, particularly during the Covid-19 response.
  • Judith Halkerston, chair of Symphonic. For services to the digital economy.
  • Jacqueline Shears, programme director for NHS Digital. For services to patient care.
  • Jonathan Bamford. For services to data protection.
  • Peter Jaco, Co-founder, Scottish Tech Army. For services to Charity during the Covid-19 Response.
  • John Lillywhite, chair of Kainos. For services to the technology sector in Northern Ireland.
  • David Smith, deputy managing director of the Parliamentary Digital Service. For services to Parliament, particularly during the Covid-19 response.
  • Matthew Stutely, director of software engineering for the Parliamentary Digital Service. For services to Parliament during Covid-19.

Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)

  • Rosalind Blundell, product manager for the digital, data and technology team at the Home Office. For services to immigration and border technology.
  • Mursal Hedayat, founder of Chatterbox. For services to social enterprise, technology and the economy.
  • Avinash Dussaram, members services officer for the Parliamentary Digital Service. For services to Parliament, particularly during the Covid-19 response.
  • Rupert Hay-Campbell, head of architecture for the Parliamentary Digital Service. For services to Parliament and to the community in Essex.
  • Steven Langley, project delivery manager, digital group, at the Department for Work and Pensions. For services to disability accessibility improvement and to charity.
  • Christopher Smith, facilities manager at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. For public service, particularly during the Covid-19 response.

Read about previous New Year Honours received by technology professionals

Read more on IT for government and public sector

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