Licence to skill: Hilary Spencer on the future of Civil Service Learning

With the new cross-government learning contract currently out to tender, Civil Service Learning director Hilary Spencer explains how the system will work in future – and why it will pave the way for better public services 

By Hilary Spencer

09 Sep 2015

Civil Service Learning was launched in 2011 with the aim of delivering top quality, cost-effective learning and development programmes for all civil servants. Since then we have made big changes. We have created a more consistent learning portfolio, removed a lot of the duplication across government and significantly reduced costs. The average cost of classroom learning is now around 75% cheaper than under previous arrangements. And although we’ve already achieved a lot, we know there is much more we can do to improve the skills of our civil servants and deliver truly transformational public services.

I am particularly excited about the opportunities we have in things like improved online services, where increasing our own digital knowledge can make a big difference to our customers. We also have fantastic knowledge and skills within the civil service which we can make much more use of: I want us to learn from each other and to build a genuine learning culture.

I want to get civil servants really excited about improving their capabilities to meet the challenges ahead. But meeting the learning needs of nearly half a million people in a diverse range of jobs is no mean feat. We need to get better at identifying the learning needs of our customers, and be more flexible to these needs. 

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Recently we sent our new cross-government learning contract out to tender. The current contract is due for renewal in March 2016 so we seized the opportunity to take a look at what we’ve learnt over the past four years, and how we could innovate for the future. We spoke to our users to identify what we had done well and what we could do differently in the new contract. 

This new tender will help us work closely in partnership with the best learning suppliers and make even better use of the buying power of the civil service. Rather than having a single service provider, we split it into four different contracts. The civil service has very diverse needs and breaking the tender up in this way means we can get the best suppliers with the best offer in each of the different areas. 

This new approach makes it easier for more businesses of different sizes to bid for all or parts of the tender. It allows us to make the most of the benefits that come from working with a varied mix of suppliers – from bespoke services to consistent core training for all of our staff.  

It is of real benefit to the civil service too. It will give us a more flexible, consistently high quality and better value learning offer. Everyone will have access to a more innovative service that links learning back into the workplace and helps to increase knowledge and skills in the civil service. 

The tender for the first two contracts, which cover a core offer for all grades and the bespoke service for senior civil servants, opened this week. We are looking forward to reviewing the bids we have received at the end of September. We plan to have suppliers in place by November and, in the meantime, we are preparing for the remaining two lots to go out to tender later in the Autumn. These cover bespoke learning for different departments and professions, and public courses.

We are really looking forward to working with suppliers, departments and professions to provide consistently excellent learning and development that help us provide the best public service in the world.

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