Cabinet Office awarded £200k to evaluate Civil Service Fast Stream

Project will assess the graduate scheme's impact on recruitment
A Fast Stream assessment centre in Parliament Street. Photo: Cliff Hide General News/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

26 Mar 2024

The Cabinet Office has been awarded £200,000 to carry out an evaluation of the Fast Stream’s impact on recruitment.

The department “will produce an evaluation report with actionable evidence to inform decisions on how [the Fast Stream] is run and learn lessons for other recruitment schemes”.

It will also “carry out a feasibility study assessing the use of civil service administrative data to evaluate programme outcomes”.

Commenting on the funding decision in a speech at the annual Evaluation Task Force Conference, minister for the Cabinet Office John Glen said: “My department – the Cabinet Office – will be measuring how recruitment is impacted by accelerated development schemes, like the Fast Stream, and I know there’s a lot more work to do in that space.”

Earlier this month, CSW revealed that applications to the fast stream have fallen by more than 50% in the last three years.

The Fast Stream project is one of six which will be supported in the Evaluation Accelerator Fund’s third and final round.

These include a Department for Energy Security and Net Zero proposal to use evaluation data to improve the projects and appraisals of net-zero policies has also been picked and will receive £160,000 in funding. Another DESNZ project, to develop, trial and fully document a method for measuring energy savings, will also be supported.

Accelerator Fund projects suffering from ‘recruitment challenges’

The Accelerator Fund was launched by the Evaluation Task Force in 2021 to encourage “innovative solutions for evaluating the impact of new policies or new ways of delivering public services”.

Since 2021, £13.7m of funding has been awarded to 20 unique government projects through the fund.

However, the Cabinet Office’s latest data on the Evaluation Task Force’s progress finds many of the Accelerator Funds projects are not “on track”. Just 37% of the EAF projects are RAG rated “green”, while 11 were rated “amber” and one was given a “red” rating.

Providing commentary on this, the Task Force said: “Many projects rated ‘Amber’ are in this category due to challenges with recruitment. The ‘Red’ project will be subject to closer monitoring and support from the ETF.”

Commenting on the figures, Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, told CSW: "Our committee recently found that recruitment continues to be an ongoing challenge for the civil service – in the time taken to recruit new staff, in the efficiency of the process itself, in the chronic issue of losing out to private sector competition. It is frustrating, if unsurprising, to see this finding mirrored in the Evaluation Accelerator Fund projects."

The data also reveals that 62% of the ETF’s priority projects have robust evaluation plans, compared to 73% last year. The Taskforce has a target of 80%.  And some 92% of senior evaluation stakeholders said their department “needs to do more to ensure evaluation evidence informs spending decisions”, up from 83% in 2023.

This follows an internal review by the Prime Minister’s Implementation Unit, publicised by the National Audit Office in 2021, which found just 8% of spending on major government projects is evaluated robustly.

Hillier said it is "disappointing to see that the proportion of ETF priority projects with robust evaluation plans are under target this year". "The fewer projects that have such plans baked into delivery, the harder it is to learn what works on projects into the future," she told CSW.

"Our committee has long called for a culture change to see the all-important process of evaluation fully integrated into all stages of government activity," she added.

Glen, speaking at the Evaluation Task Force Conference, was more positive on the progress. He said the Cabinet Office has been "trying to correct" the 8% robustness figure since the ETF was set up in 2021 "to ensure the UK became a world leader in evidence-based policy decisions".

"Since then, we’ve seen some remarkable success," Glen said.

He pointed to the the taskforce having a bigger footprint than anticipated, advising on 382 evaluations  with a total value of £202bn since creation, surpassing its target of 250 evaluations with a total value of £65bn.

It has also carried out 111 evaluation awareness-raising activities in the last 12 months, easily beating its target of 24, and has advised on 107 HM Treasury business cases and spending review bids, having targeted 100.

The ETF update, which monitors the ETF’s progress against a range out output and outcome indicators, also found some 80% of senior evaluation stakeholders said “evaluation evidence informs the design and delivery of policies”, beating the ETF’s target of 50%.

Glen also gave an update on progress with the ETF’s Evaluation Academy, which aims to train trainers in each department to upskill civil servants to use data more effectively.

“Last year 40 government analysts took part, who in turn passed on their skills to more than 1,000 colleagues in less than four months,” he said. “Some of the original cohort returned to deliver the content at the academy this year to civil servants from 22 government departments. This is obviously very impressive work and will go a long way to helping us solve our public sector productivity puzzle.”

 

 

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