Civil servants question honesty of private partners – and each other

CSW survey finds two-thirds of officials struggle to find common ground with other government departments
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Civil servants consider commercial partners to be the least honest organisations they work with, according to a new survey by CSW – in which more than two-thirds of officials also said they struggle to find common ground with other government departments. 

The first annual CSW trust survey polled civil servants across 15 departments and government agencies about their experience working with seven types of organisations: local government; commercial partners; the voluntary and community sector; academia; wider public service; non-departmental public bodies and executive agencies; and other government departments. 

Of the 430 people surveyed, fewer than half said they deem private sector partners to be “open and honest”. However, other government departments fared little better, with only 53% of respondents attributing these qualities to their colleagues in other ministries. 

Academia was seen as the most honest sector (76%), followed by wider public service (72%), the voluntary sector (69%), local government (68%), and NDPBs and agencies (65%). 

Commercial organisations also scored the lowest in CSW’s overall trust rating – calculated by averaging out the percentage of survey respondents who agreed with five positive statements about the partner organisations they work with. The higher the score, the more likely it is that civil servants feel able to build strong partnerships with those organisations. 

Civil servants were asked whether they find it easy to work with colleagues in each given sector; if they believe them to be open and honest; if they are able to find common ground and goals with them; if they share common values; and if the people in the sector are reliable. 

The wider public service – which includes schools, healthcare providers – got the highest overall trust rating of 74%, closely followed by academia (71%) and the voluntary sector (70%). 

However, these were also the areas our survey respondents were least likely to work with – with one in five or fewer saying they have partners in these sectors. 

By contrast, four in five respondents said they work with other government departments – which scored a trust rating of 69%. 

Just over two in five work with the lowest-scoring sectors – commercial partners, which chalked up a trust rating of 58%, and NDPBs, which scored 60%. 

CSW also asked civil servants to share the biggest barriers to collaboration with different partners. 

In every case, at least half the respondents said a lack of understanding around how the different organisations work impedes collaboration. This was especially the case with local government and the voluntary sector. 

Different organisational or professional cultures was another commonly cited stumbling block – particularly when working with academia, local government and NDPBs and agencies. 

Just over half the people working with commercial partners and wider public bodies cited different budgeting or approval systems as a hurdle. 

While respondents were most likely to cite misaligned objectives – or the perception of such – when talking about commercial partners, fewer people (40%) said they have encountered this barrier to working with businesses compared to the other issues raised in the survey. 

The majority of survey respondents said they can find common ground and goals when working with each type of organisation. However, respondents were least likely to find common ground with other government departments – with just 68% agreeing with this statement, compared to the wider public sector, which came out on top with 81%. 

And only 62% of respondents said they believe partners in other government departments to share their values – scoring higher only than commercial partners, at 47%. By contrast, around three-quarters of respondents said they shared common values with the voluntary sector (76%), wider public service (75%) and NDPBs (71%). 

Government departments also scored the lowest for reliability – with just 58% of those who answered the survey saying they believed the people they worked with in other ministries to be reliable. Commercial partners scored only slightly higher, with 62% of respondents finding their counterparts reliable – compared with 71% saying the same about the wider public sector. 

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