Civil service must get better at growing its own talent, says committee chair Bernard Jenkin

Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs committee chairman says opening up civil service recruitment to outsiders is welcome, but a "second-best objective" when organisation should be building its own capability

By Suzannah Brecknell

15 Sep 2016

The civil service’s flagship Workforce Plan lacks emphasis on learning, development and leadership, according to the chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs committee Bernard Jenkin.

Writing exclusively for CSW, Jenkin said the plan — a five-year strategy for recruitment and career development published by the Cabinet Office earlier this year — included much to be commended. 

He welcomed the announcement of a shake-up in recruitment processes, particularly the drive to open all civil service recruitment to external candidates by the end of this parliament.

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“That would certainly help departments seeking to fill the more specialised roles with people who have appropriate expertise and experience,” Jenkin wrote.

“This remains, however, a second-best objective. The highest-functioning organisations develop their own people with the skills and experience from within.”

Addressing the plan's lack of focus on learning, development and leadership, Jenkin said the creation of a dedicated Leadership Academy was “but a first step,” and said there was still a need to replace some of the functions carried out by the National School of Government, which was abolished in 2012.

“Any organisation the size of government should take far more control over the development of its own people,” he writes.

“Learning and development must reflect the needs of not just professions and functions, but of the need for development of general leadership capability.”

Jenkin praised the creation of development frameworks for government's 26 professions — but he warned that career pathways could become unclear with so many frameworks in development.

"How on earth does a civil servant feel they can plan their career?” he writes. 

“The reality is that most civil servants look to their own department for that leadership. The ability of permanent secretaries to plan career pathways in their departments is lacking, and this is required more than ever following the turmoil caused by the EU referendum result."

Jenkin also welcomed plans to remove senior commercial civil servants from traditional grade structure as part of a new Government Commercial Organisaiton, saying such a move “breaks down traditional hierarchies and empowers staff,”

However, he said the move also begs the question: “Why exempt one group from anything whilst expecting others to conform, since this leads to cynicism, not empowerment?”

He added: “It is essential to recognise this so that the civil service can pay for the talent that it needs in the jobs which need to be filled.”

Jenkin's committee is currently taking evidence for its new inquiry into the future of the civil service.

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