Sir Jeremy Heywood vows 'relentless' civil service diversity push after trio of critical reports

Written by Matt Foster on 27 March 2015 in News

Exclusive: Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood sets out revised Talent Action Plan after 'worrying' government-commissioned reports on LGBT, BME and disability representation in the civil service

The cabinet secretary has promised a "relentless" focus on improving the diversity of the civil service, as he set out his response to a trio of critical reports on the career barriers facing officials from under-represented groups.

The three separate reports, commissioned by Cabinet Office last year, highlight concerns among civil servants that Whitehall’s leadership has not done enough to support diversity, particularly at a senior level.

Among the reports’ findings are:

Sir Jeremy said the three reports raised “really worrying” concerns for civil service leaders, as he set out a revised version of the Cabinet Office’s Talent Action Plan (TAP), drawn up last year in response to separate research on gender in Whitehall.

“There are some very, very big challenges ahead and these reports that we’re publishing today expose that very clearly, and I think it is very important that we don’t hide that away,” the cabinet secretary told an audience of civil servants at a Championing Difference summit in London on Thursday. “We’ll never solve this problem if we’re not open about the problem.”

The revised TAP commits the civil service to an “intensive two-year programme” of help for departments and agencies so that they can “fully integrate diversity and inclusion into their business processes”. 

According to the Cabinet Office, this will be led by a single cross-government team “run from the heart of the HR function”.

'Stretching objectives'

Departments’ implementation of diversity policies will also be scrutinised by non-executive directors “with established track records on diversity”, while the most senior civil servants will be deemed "personally responsible" for tackling discrimination and ensuring their departments promote on merit.

“As long as I’m head of the civil service this will be one of the top priorities and we will relentlessly focus on it, year-in, year-out,” Heywood said.

“But I want the same to be true of all the other permanent secretaries as well. I want each individual permanent secretary to have a clear, evidence-based objective relevant to their department for which they will be held accountable.

“The objectives will be public so there will be public pressure as well as my pressure as line manager. They will be agreed by [Cabinet Office minister] Francis [Maude] and the prime minister, and they will be stretching objectives such that if we meet them consistently over the parliament we’ll have made a big difference to this agenda.”

The Cabinet Office’s plan also sets out a commitment to tackling a “lack of clarity and uniformity” in the data collected by departments and agencies on the representation and career progress of staff from under-represented groups.

It pledges to collate and publish standardised data on diversity through the GOV.UK website, and calls on departments to encourage staff to declare information on disability, sexual identity and ethnicity, in a bid to improve the overall quality of data.

"I think we've refreshed our policies, our policies have improved. But ultimately it comes down to accountability and transparency," Heywood said, adding: "We're making a rod for our own backs quite deliberately.”


Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude told civil servants at yesterday’s event that the findings of the three reports made for “sometimes uncomfortable reading”, but said it had been “important” to ensure that officials were able to speak “very directly” about their experiences at work.

“The thing that comes of it is… that there is this gap between what people say and the progressive policies and lots of enthusiastic work and behaviour, and how people see the behaviour,” he said. “There is that feeling that it isn’t consistent, a feeling that there is a sort of monoculture, that you need to be a certain type of person to succeed.”

The civil service should, Maude added “be at the forefront of good practice”, setting an example to the private sector in the way it recognises staff for their achievements regardless of their background.

“We cannot be the best civil service that we can be unless we support people of talent, whatever they look like, whatever their sexuality, whatever their physical disabilities,” he said.


Public sector trade unions gave a mixed reaction to the Cabinet Office proposals. The FDA, which represents senior public sector managers, said it "broadly" backed the revised TAP, but both it and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union expressed disappointment that unions had not been involved in drawing up the new plan.

"The aims of the Talent Action Plan will only be achieved with collaboration between the government and the unions that represent its employees," said the FDA's equality officer Roland Zollner.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the reports made for "sobering reading", and revealed "just how little the civil service has progressed over the years".

"As well as highlighting the adverse impact of the new and almost universally despised performance management system, they reveal barriers to promotion and stereotypical attitudes remain, and that black, disabled and LGBT workers still find their career paths only go so far," he added.

Talent Action Plan in focus:
Civil service diversity reports: 'Paucity' of LGBT role models in Whitehall​
Civil service diversity reports: SCS working culture a 'barrier' to disabled officials​
Civil service diversity reports: Whitehall 'falling short' in developing BME talent​

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Anon (not verified)

Submitted on 28 March, 2015 - 06:23
When the civil service and especially HMRC worked closely with PCS equality groups, staff were made much more aware of diversity in the workplace. Now the union spends most of it's time getting untrained and often ignorant managers to get reasonable adjustments for disabled staff and also making managers aware of legal obligations under the equality act. To top it all lat year they had a service of thanks for christian staff - what about our Hindu, Jewish or Muslim staff? Do they not get to thank their god?

Anon (not verified)

Submitted on 30 March, 2015 - 10:34
I choose not to reveal on my HR records my sexuality (frankly I consider that my own business) or my my race/colour. Does this now mean that I will be disadvantaged?

A Senior Manager (not verified)

Submitted on 30 March, 2015 - 15:19
Diversity is also about age and experience and certain big departments in the Civil Service do not seem to value either! Pretty much all of the talent focus is on younger people who have little experience! Experience gained outside the Civil Service also seems to be considered as dubious and unverified evidence of competence or capability!

Billy D (BIS) (not verified)

Submitted on 30 March, 2015 - 15:25
Once ain no mention of the greatest travesty - the lack of people from low social economic backgrounds who make it up the ladder. Great if you went to study at Oxford and Cambridge. Rubbish for the rest of us.

A Civil Servant (not verified)

Submitted on 16 April, 2015 - 23:07
Having worked in various areas of the Civil Service for over 40 years I found that the number of gay and lesbian staff was at least at or in most cases above what is found in the rest of society. In fact when I worked in one office out of 10 staff in my team I was the only person that was hetrosexual. This was unusual, of course, but everywhere else there were a few people who were homosexual and didn't hide the fact to their immediate colleagues. By this I mean they didn't broadcast the fact but in conversation they may mention their partner, for example, and from this it became obvious. I think that the issue is that it's still the case that people have a private life and don't wish to disclose their sexuality on a form, survey or in the HR record. I know I never did because, as far as I was concerned, it had no bearing on my job. As long as my work was of a high standard and I had good, working relationships with my colleagues that was all that mattered.

anon (not verified)

Submitted on 1 June, 2015 - 12:52
Transparacy in recruitment and promotion within Civil Service departments is virtually non exhistance and departments promote people from white background as oppose to BME at HEO level and above. The British Society still practices discremination when it comes to employment promotions and not on merit considering BME staff are more productive and have wider experience. All Civil Service Departments need to be closely monitored about their internal promotions of staff and need to be questioned why they are not promoting BME staff in the same manner as promoting white staff and each department needs to have a compulsory quota of promoting BME staff at each grade and in each sector of the department. Unless this is done the Civil Service departments will never change and BME will suffer and be under represented at middle and senior levels. What a shame each successive government has failed to address this problem causing relentless amongst BME staff to perform better as a result of facing biasness.

Anonymous (not verified)

Submitted on 18 July, 2015 - 22:55
where can the public access these reports?

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