New civil service training 'will raise standards and reduce reliance on consultants'

Updated curriculum will reduce risk of duplication and offer better value for money, Cabinet Office says
Training will be online initially but in-person sessions will be developed later. Photo: Adobe Stock

Thousands of officials will undergo training this year under a new curriculum designed to boost “technical and analytical skills” in the civil service and reduce its reliance on external consultants.

A new Curriculum and Campus for Government Skills, launched today, will deliver on a promise by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to create a “properly resourced campus for training people in government”, the department said today.

The updated curriculum will replace the existing training on offer for civil servants and will have a “renewed emphasis” on technical and analytical skills, the Cabinet Office said.

Currently, civil servants can access a mixture of centrally-managed training on core skills and professional-development courses commissioned by their departments.

The new offer will reduce the risk of duplication, offer better value for money and develop “rigorous standards for training across the whole of government”, the Cabinet Office said.

By bolstering in-house skills, it will also reduce the need to commission costly external consultants – the use of which has been heavily criticised in recent months – according to the department.

The department said it expected that “thousands” of civil servants will have completed some training by the end of this year through the programme, which ranges from early-career knowledge and skills to specialist training on areas such as economics, data usage, the physical sciences, and constitutional issues.

The curriculum is comprised of five strands: foundations of public administration; working in government; leading and managing; specialist skills; and domain knowledge.

It will also offer inductions for new ministers.

Training will initially be delivered online, with in-person sessions to be developed later, the Cabinet Office said.

It is “looking at” working with existing public-sector institutions including the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, it added.

The announcement comes after Boris Johnson’s appearance at the Liaison Committee this week, where he said the government was planning to offer “formal training” to civil servants.

“We are looking at having a campus, it might be that we fund it with the military and that we do something at Sandhurst, where there are fantastic facilities,” the prime minister told MPs on Wednesday.

The training offer could be expanded in future to include a College for National Security targeting officials working in defence, security, foreign policy and strategy, as well as a Service Delivery Academy, the Cabinet Office said.

The national security college would work with universities and other sectors, according to the announcement.    

The new curriculum will build on Gove’s Ditchley speech last year, in which he said that for decades, ministers had “neglected to ensure that senior members of the civil service have all the basic skills required to serve government, and our citizens, well”.

He said at the time that training reforms must address skills gaps, in particular a dearth of officials with “qualifications or expertise in mathematical, statistical and probability questions”. It must also equip civil servants to “make a tight, evidence-rich, fact-based, argument which doesn’t waste words or evade hard choices”, he said.

In a statement, Gove said the new curriculum would “transform our approach to training and deliver better public services for families across the UK”.

“We must make the most of the amazing talent that we have in such abundance in the civil service and that means ensuring civil servants across the UK are equipped with the right skills and can develop deep knowledge of the areas they work in,” he said.

“For too long training has been focussed on the latest management jargon and ignored specialist knowledge.”

Civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm said the curriculum would “better target training in key areas, as well as focus on building up technical and vocational skills”.

“It will help us to maximise the outstanding talent in the civil service, providing more opportunities for civil servants at every level to develop and progress their careers,” he said.

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