Cabinet Office rebuts call to give more detail on 'vague' Civil Service People Plan

MPs said civil service workforce strategy "does not provide enough clarity" on how it will meet its aims
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The Cabinet Office has turned down a call from MPs to publish more detail on how it will achieve the “ambitious” goals of the Civil Service People Plan.

The department’s latest workforce strategy, published in January, includes commitments to develop a long-term approach to pay and reward in the civil service, create a smaller, more skilled, and better rewarded senior civil service and improve training for line managers.

But in its March report, parliament's Public Accounts Committee called the Civil Service People Plan 2024-2027 "vague" and said the Cabinet Office has shown a "lack of curiosity and willingness to act" on cross-government workforce issues.

It called for more detailed explanations of the commitments in the plan, including how they will be delivered in practice, target or expected levels of performance, and criteria against which success will be judged.

Responding in a Treasury minute this week, the Cabinet Office said it disagreed with the recommendation on the basis that the people plan “outlines the specific actions that will be taken, the 45 commitments that will be delivered, and timescales for delivery”.

PAC’s report said the people plan “does not provide enough clarity over how it will achieve these aims”.

The Cabinet Office added that an evaluation strategy that will measure the “combined impact of the commitments for each priority area” is “in development”, which will measure the combined impact of the commitments for each priority area.

The response is unlikely to satisfy PAC, which said in its report that the metrics outlined in the plan “do not specify targets or expected levels of performance against which success can be measured and assessed”.

For example, the plan promises to “improve and speed up” recruitment in the civil service”, with a target date of this year. But the MPs noted that it does not specify how many days it should take departments to hire staff.

The Cabinet Office response does accept many of the committee’s other recommendations, including a call to use its upcoming civil service pay and reward strategy to set out specific actions the department will take to address issues such as declining real-terms pay; variation between roles paid at the same grade; and disparities in pay between departments.

It says the strategy will “outline the steps the government will take to set out a vision of a more coherent, flexible, and individualised reward framework by 2030 that will enable departments to reward excellence in public service delivery, recognise capability in role, enhance productivity and inspire the acquisition of the skills and capabilities needed to support the current, and future, priorities of government”.

However, it notes that under the delegated pay model, departments control their individual pay systems – within the parameters set by the Cabinet Office under pay remit guidance – suggesting that the Cabinet Office’s power to impose changes will be limited.

The response added that the Cabinet Office is exploring how to increase understanding of the civil service pension offer “so that it is recognised for its true value and meets the needs of an evolving workforce” – adding that this will be “key to attracting and retaining talent”.

The response also reveals that the Cabinet Office is designing a tool to collate performance management data for 2023-24 to enable it to analyse the figures centrally.

PAC had said the Cabinet Office should mandate that departments collect data on the number of underperforming staff, performance management and outcomes for underperforming staff.

The tool will be ready this summer, after which the Cabinet Office will work with departments “to maximise the use of pre-existing policy tools to address poor performance, or design new ones, if necessary”.

The Cabinet Office is meanwhile reviewing how many departments record the number of underperforming senior civil servants, for whom performance and poor performance policies are set centrally, and outcomes for underperformers. The department will consider whether to include updated guidance on collecting this data or additional reporting requirements in policies for this performance year.

The response says the Cabinet Office has already implemented PAC’s recommendation to require all departments to report regular data on recruitment times, which will then be used to set benchmarks.

It says departments are now required to share “consistent and comparable” data on time to hire, time to fill, diversity of candidate, cost per hire, vacancy holder experience and candidate experience. The first quarterly dataset became available in April.

“These metrics will enable effective benchmarking between departments, as well as external comparators, to drive improvements using a single standard. Once the new metrics are fully embedded, the Cabinet Office will introduce a set of recruitment standards, which will drive further consistency and improvements across civil service recruitment,” the Treasury minute says.

The same datasets will help government to meet another of PAC’s recommendations, to define a common cost-per-hire measure that includes the cost of all staff time spent on recruitment, and require all departments to report to it regularly on their full cost per hire, the Cabinet Office said.

The department said it will use “narrative context” submitted by departments around their cost calculations to evaluate their benchmarking and define an approach “that ensures equal effort and quality of reporting across departments” from November.

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