Ministers reject call to make Civil Service People Survey results an official statistic

But Cabinet Office pledges to speed up publication of annual results and to review the “usefulness” of the benchmark Employee Engagement Index
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By Jim Dunton

18 Jan 2024

The Cabinet Office has rejected MPs’ calls for a host of reforms to the Civil Service People Survey, including a demand for the results of the annual exercise to be made an official statistic.

However, ministers pledged to speed up external publication of the survey’s findings, after members of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said delays of several months between the survey closing and the results being shared outside government were “indefensible”.

PACAC said the results of the survey, which has been conducted every autumn since 2009, are a “dataset of significant public interest” and should be classified as official statistics and published in full compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

They said publication should take place at the point results are distributed to participants inside government, and before the end of the calendar year the results refer to.

In its just-published response to PACAC’s October report the Cabinet Office dismissed both proposals, saying the survey is “primarily” a management tool to support government departments and agencies. 

Nevertheless, ministers acknowledged that the survey looks to “match” a number of approaches in the Code of Practice for Statistics. They also committed to “reducing the timing between internal and external distribution of the findings” and exploring the option of improving communication with external users of the survey by providing release dates in advance.

The results of the 2022 people survey were not published until the end of March 2023; results from the 2021 People Survey did not surface outside of government until the end of April 2022.

The Cabinet Office response also contained a commitment to publish a “commentary of the main high-level findings” to accompany people survey data. Such commentaries were produced previously but have been absent in recent years. 

PACAC’s October report also questioned the value of the People Survey’s benchmark Employee Engagement Index. The committee called for the Cabinet Office to review the use of the index, suggesting it did not reflect areas such as pay and benefits, where staff have “consistently expressed dissatisfaction”.

The Cabinet Office accepted the recommendation, but insisted the Employee Engagement Index is in line with metrics used by NHS England, the UK Armed Forces, and the US and Australian governments.

“We will build on the work done in previous years and will explore the content and usefulness of the Employee Engagement Index in wider work planned on the survey beyond 2023,” the department said.

“As part of this work the Cabinet Office is currently examining different options on how to improve the survey in the future, embedding the recommendations from the committee’s report, and plans to implement those changes over the next two years working towards a new version of the Civil Service People Survey in 2025.”

PACAC chair William Wragg applauded the pledges set out in the government’s response to the committee’s report, but said it is regrettable they do not go further towards meeting MPs’ demands.

“The Civil Service People Survey is a dataset of public interest, which should be made equally available to those inside and outside government,” he said.

“While we welcome commitments made by the Cabinet Office to release more data more quickly in future years, we are disappointed that they chose not to publish 2023 results when they were shared with civil servants late last year and also that they have rejected our call to classify the People Survey results as an official statistic, compliant with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

“We look forward to analysing the 2023 results, to understand what they tell us about levels of satisfaction across the civil service and in the Cabinet Office, as soon as possible.”

Last week, Department for Work and Pensions permanent secretary Peter Schofield used data from the organisation’s 2023 people survey feedback to answer MPs questions about workloads against the backdrop of union claims of “unbearable” pressures and “improper” staffing levels. However, he did not provide specific figures and the data is still not available outside of government.

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