Glen could target civil service diversity networks in 'political activism' crackdown

New guidance could be on the way as minister says new networks should meet outside working hours
John Glen arriving for a Cabinet meeting. Photo: Uwe Deffner/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

22 Jan 2024

Ministers could demand that civil service diversity network meetings can only be held outside of working hours as part of a crackdown on “political activism”.

Impartiality guidance could also be changed to make it clear that any work “on identity and inclusion issues” should not be a “vehicle for taking an agenda into the workplace”, according to John Glen, who is working on a review of diversity networks.

The Cabinet Office minister told the Telegraph he had seen examples of this in the civil service “that appear to be very concerning”. He added that there is “confusion” about how civil service diversity networks operate and so ministers “want to issue new guidance to inform and clarify how they work”.

“When I was in the private sector, these activities were things that we did at breakfast before we started work and in the evenings, and that to me is where the orientation of these things should be headed,” Glen he told the newspaper.

“People want to know that civil servants are spending their time on their primary job, not on network activities,” he added.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said in October that the government would undertake a “value for money audit” of equality, diversity and inclusion spending in the civil service. A month later, policy documents for the chancellor's Autumn Statement said the audit was “coming to conclusion”.

Responding to the reports, Prospect union general secretary Mike Clancy said: "The civil service needs to become more diverse to attract and retain all the talent and skills it needs in future. The resources put into these networks are already small, and attacking them is a desperate distraction from the considerable challenges the country faces both at home and abroad.”

Glen, who moved from the Treasury to the Cabinet Office in November, is expected to set out his plans for a “lean, keen and productive” civil service in a speech at the Institute for Government tomorrow.

The government has committed to bringing the civil service headcount down to pre-pandemic levels, a drop of around 66,000. Glen told the Telegraph he wants to reform career progression paths to enable the best performers to “take on more responsibility, earn more money and be rewarded”, with poorer performers let go.

He also said the government has “over-invested in people as a solution” and should recalibrate by looking more heavily at “innovation and technology”, including artificial intelligence. Earlier this month, Cabinet Office minister Alex Burghart said fraud detection roles could be replaced by AI.

Glen has also reportedly said that Home Office civil servants who are unwilling to follow ministers’ instructions to ignore European court rulings to ground flights to Rwanda can look for jobs elsewhere. Last week, the government issued fresh guidance to civil servants, stating they must implement ministers' instructions to overrule temporary orders by European Court of Human Rights judges which block the deportation of asylum seekers.

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