Good workplace culture attracts good people, but attacks on the civil service will keep coming

The allegation that diversity networks distract from officials' core mission is false, but the civil service is an easy target in an election year, Prospect's general secretary writes
John Glen claimed civil service diversity networks promote “activism” and are a “waste of taxpayers’ money”. Photo: Uwe Deffner/Alamy Live News

By Mike Clancy

31 Jan 2024

The last few years have been a period of extreme challenge for the UK: the greatest change to our relationship with Europe in decades, a global pandemic, the outbreak of war on European soil and domestic economic and political turmoil.  

These pressures have shone a light on the state of our public services after a decade and a half of austerity: stretched to breaking point, with no capacity to deal with any additional shocks to the system. 

Throughout this period, the public servants at the heart of the civil service have gone above and beyond to keep the country running, despite an ever-changing cast of government ministers more focused on infighting and short-term politicking than implementing policies to meet the generational challenges we face.  

Rather than reflecting on their policy failures and resetting their priorities, they have attempted to deflect blame by creating illusory opponents in the form of the very civil servants who have bailed them out time and again over the course of the last parliament.  

With an election due within the next year, ministers are again raising the spectre of enemies within to distract from their own failings – most recently by attacking civil service diversity networks, which Cabinet Office minister John Glen claims promote “activism” and are a “waste of taxpayers’ money”.  

Their claim – sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit – is that public servants are not doing the jobs that they are paid to do. This could not be further from the truth. A high proportion of people working in the civil service and its agencies could get better pay and better conditions working in the private sector. The reason they don’t do so is because of their dedication to their work and commitment to public service.  

"People work better when they feel supported and respected – they are more confident and more productive. So to assert these networks are a 'waste of money' simply does not make sense"

The allegation that diversity networks distract from the civil service’s core mission of delivering the government’s agenda is similarly false. One function of diversity networks is to provide the voice of minority groups to get the support they need to achieve their potential at work. People work better when they feel supported and respected – they are more confident and more productive. So to assert these networks are a “waste of money” simply does not make sense – they should instead be seen as an investment in getting the most out of staff.  

Diversity networks also play a crucial role in tackling discrimination in the workplace. Like with many employers, there remains a persistent level of harassment and bullying in the civil service, and sadly it is often related to the victim’s identity. In the MoD in particular, we are seeing an unacceptable problem with sexual harassment. This was highlighted by 60 women writing an open letter about their experience and reinforced by Prospect members sharing their stories. Networks allow people to share their experiences, support each other and advocate to the employer for policy and culture change to reduce bullying, harassment, discrimination and victimisation at work.  

Good workplace culture also attracts good people – and if you want the best people working in the civil service, you need best practice in developing an inclusive culture where staff can thrive. To effectively deliver government policy for a diverse population, you need a workforce that understands and reflects that population, and diversity networks play a key role in attracting and retaining a highly skilled, highly motivated, diverse workforce.  

As we head towards to the general election, I fear we can expect more of these ad-hominem attacks. This is a government that has been in power for almost 14 years and is running out of time and running out of people to blame. Whatever comes down the line, Prospect will always and stand up for members and the work they do.  

Mike Clancy is general secretary of Prospect 

Read the most recent articles written by Mike Clancy - Unlike the farce at Westminster, public sector cuts are no joke


Share this page