The civil service has failed to prioritise changes to improve its external recruitment practices despite “a pressing sense of urgency” in 2014 that concerns newcomers were put off by an “impenetrable and alien” culture must be addressed, a government HR advisor has said.
Catherine Baxendale, an independent consultant commissioned by the Cabinet Office to conduct a report about external recruitment into the civil service, said the government had been slow to publish the review's findings and had failed to consult her on implementing them.
She said the report’s key finding was that the talents of senior staff brought in from the private sector to fill key skills gaps were “not being fully utilised because of the way that they were recruited, inducted… briefed on their new job”.
But she told MPs this morning that despite expecting to be involved in introducing changes to address these problems, she’d had “no official contact” with the civil service since the report publication in 2015.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) in September announced it was to reopen its inquiry into civil service capability, which chair Bernard Jenkin said will produce a report based on evidence that had not been made available to a select committee before.
In the opening session to that inquiry today, Jenkin and MPs on the committee questioned Baxendale about the findings and follow-up to her report, which was commissioned by former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.
Baxendale completed her report by September 2014, following a “pressing sense of urgency” from the Cabinet Office, but it was not published until May 2015 and she said the reasons for the delay had not been explained to her.
Further, when it was published, Baxendale said she felt the government’s accompanying response was inadequate.
“I felt that the breadth and depth of my findings… wasn’t necessarily reflected in their response,” she said, adding that it had seemed like the government felt “that it wasn’t a priority”.
She added that she had heard anecdotally that her report was being shown to new starters by way of induction to the civil service, but said this fell short of the “full induction to new hires” recommended by her report.
Baxendale also said that while she’d had the “utmost cooperation from the civil service” during her research, she would have liked the opportunity to revisit that work and assess how far conditions have been changed.
“I have had no official contact with the civil service or government since my report,” she confirmed.
The report found that external hires into the civil service gave lower scores in feedback surveys for areas such as training and development and support from leadership, and that they were twice as likely to resign as homegrown staff.
One area flagged as a particular issue was where people had been brought in to lead a big change project and felt frustrated by lack of progress and resistance to change.
Part of the problem, Baxendale said, was to do with civil service culture, which could feel “impenetrable” and “completely alien” to outsiders. She found a “closed mentality of ‘we know how to do this’ rather than ‘how can we improve’”.
She also found that some departments offered “little or no induction” to help new starters understand the workings of government, and argued more needed to be done to ensure new hires are recognised for their external achievements and line managers are held accountable if senior recruits leave government soon after being hired.
“I found that there was woefully inadequate provision of very simple measures,” she said.
Baxendale said most of the issues had felt “very resolvable”, but she was disappointed not to have been invited to help with or advise on subsequent action to reform practices and systems.