What does the 2016 People Survey tell us about the new Brexit-focused departments?

Written by Matt Foster on 17 November 2016 in News
News

This year's People Survey provides a snapshot of morale at Whitehall's newest organisations: the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Department for International Trade, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Matt Foster crunches the numbers

The results of 2016's Civil Service People Survey have just landed, shedding light on the views and concerns of officials right across the organisation. This year's survey is particularly notable for the addition of the three new departments set up by Theresa May when she became prime minister over the summer – namely the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Department for International Trade, and the combined Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. So what do the new figures tell us about these fledgling organisations? 

Of the three new departments, DExEU fares best for overall levels of employee engagement, registering 64% – a full five points above the civil service-wide average of 59%.

That puts it in line with that other small coordinating department at the centre of government, the Cabinet Office, which also scored 65% this year, although DExEU is far below consistent high-flyer HM Treasury, which scores 74%. Liam Fox's new trade department is three points shy of the employee engagement average on 56%, while BEIS scores the lowest of the new organisations with an engagement score of 54%. 

Leadership, direction and resources

Despite much commentary this week about the supposed disarray with the government's Brexit strategy, there are some encouraging signs in the People Survey about the way the department tasked with taking Britain out of the EU is being led – but concern among staff over whether it has the tools to do the job.

DExEU scores 60% for "leadership and managing change", putting it in the top tier of the civil service, and behind only the Treasury (on 65%) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (62%). More worryingly, however, the Departmental for International Trade – which is currently on the hunt for a full-time permanent secretary to succeed Sir Martin Donelly – is bumping along the bottom of the leadership rankings, scoring a mere 31%. Only the Ministry of Defence – which has long scored poorly for leadership and registers 30% – and the Department of Health – which registered a big drop this year and is now at the bottom of the rankings, as my colleague Jim Dunton's separate story reveals – fared worse.

Staff at BEIS, meanwhile, appear to be struggling with the identity of their newly-merged department. BEIS gets the worst score of any government on "organisational objectives and purpose", registering a satisfaction rating of just 52% on this front. That's well below the civil service-wide average of 83%, and a far cry from last year's scores for both the Department for Energy and Climate Change (76%) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (78%).

As BEIS perm sec Alex Chisholm pointed out recently, the full details of DECC-BIS merger are still being ironed out, but it will be interesting to see whether more clarity from ministers over the next year on what exactly they mean by "industrial strategy" helps to improve the situation. All three departments, however, score well for satisfaction with "my manager". The civil service average here is 68%, and DeXEU and the DIT both score 67% while and BEIS gets an above-average 69% score.

Despite the positive view of leadership at the Brexit department, there are clear concerns among DExEU's staff about the amount of work they've got on their plate. Although the department's staffing levels are still being finalised, and its leadership has repeatedly stressed the need to stay small in order to play an agile, coordinating role, the new Brexit department registers by far the worst score for resources and workload of any government department, scoring 59%.

That compares to a civil service-wide average of 73%. Its closest rival meanwhile is the new trade department, with DIT's score for resourcing also below-average, on 65%. BEIS, which has the combined heft of two existing departments, is closer to the civil service average with a score of 72%. It will be worth keeping a close eye on the scores for DExEU and the DIT in next year's study to see if they improve once the new structures have had more time to bed in.

Pay and benefits

It's no secret that dissatisfaction with pay and benefits continues to be the biggest concern raised by civil servants in the annual survey. This year, the civil service-wide engagement score for pay and benefits was 31%, a one percent year-on-year rise, but a far cry from the 37% recorded in 2010 before the public sector-wide pay freeze and subsequent payrise cap kicked in.

Interestingly for a department that is being asked to plug a widely-acknowledged skills gap in the wake of the Brexit vote – namely, a lack of trade negotiating knowledge – the new Department for International Trade scores joint-lowest for pay and benefits, registering a score of just 21%.

That puts satisfaction with pay at DIT at the same low level as recorded in HM Revenue and Customs, a much bigger, operational departmental which has many of its staff working at administrative grade. As former Foreign Office chief Sir Simon Fraser highlighted this week, civil service leaders face a difficult balancing act in the months ahead: offering attractive terms to new recruits from outside Whitehall to help with the Brexit challenge without sapping the morale of existing staff.

DExEU, meanwhile, is more in line with the civil service average for pay and benefits, on 28%, while BEIS is five points below average, on 26%.


More on the 2016 People Survey

Jeremy Heywood “disappointed” with bullying and harassment progress as People Survey results unveiled
Department of Health’s People Survey ratings plummet
Jeremy Heywood urges civil servants to take part in 2016 People Survey

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Pliney the Elder (not verified)

Submitted on 17 November, 2016 - 15:59
I don't know why we're complaining. Mr Fox published an article saying that the "civil service pay constraints were a given" and he thinks " the social standing of people in the civil service is high enough to compensate for the financial limitations". Personally, I'm going to take my improved social standing to the bank and Sainsburys (other fine retailers are available) and see if that works.

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