'Whitehall speak' axed from some civil service job ads as part of new trial

Jeremy Quin also reveals how government is embracing AI, including a new permanent unit
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By Tevye Markson

21 Jul 2023

Departments are to experiment with simplified civil service job adverts which have been expunged of “Whitehall" jargon, the minister for the Cabinet Office has announced.

Ministers are asking departments to trial new approaches with the aim of recruiting more civil servants from the private sector, Jeremy Quin said in a speech at think tank Policy Exchange focused on skills, efficiency and technology.

“If we are fishing in a competitive pool for talent, trying to persuade those with much to give to turn their back on other opportunities and follow the rewarding path of public service, we need to get real about how we perform as recruiters,” Quin said.

“We must ensure that every aspect of civil service recruitment, from how we advertise, to how we recognise external expertise, to how we select and onboard recruits, supports good candidates.

“So, we are asking departments and professions to trial alternative recruitment approaches.”

Currently only one-in-five SCS jobs goes to an external candidate, according to the minister.

“I want to ensure that every potential recruit who wants to bring their expertise to bear in the public interest can feel able to apply to do so,” Quin said. “And I want us to be able to harness that talent where we know it will add value.”

Last year, the government introduced a requirement for all senior civil service roles to be advertised externally, a move recommended by Policy Exchange. Internal-only recruitment competitions can now only be carried out in the SCS with explicit ministerial approval.

“Whilst this change is already making a difference, we can and should do more,” Quin said.

“It is not enough simply to advertise a job externally."

Civil servants will "experiment with running recruitment campaigns with simplified job adverts, ridding them of Whitehall speak", Quin said.

They will also try to speed up the recruitment process, “with a focus on cutting the bureaucracy that puts off or times out brilliant candidates,” the minister added.

“Currently, the ‘street to seat’ recruitment process can take as long as 80 days, if not longer, and that’s before vetting,” Quin said.

To help speed up onboarding, Quin said government is improving its vetting system, which was slammed earlier this year by the National Audit Office. The watchdog said UK Security Vetting’s poor performance was putting the effective functioning of government departments and national security at risk.

UK Security Vetting is recruiting new staff and improving processes and systems to bring key performance indicators “up to the levels we need to see”, Quin said.

“We are determined to deliver a radical overhaul of [UKSV’s] policy, process and systems,” he added.

AI on the agenda

Quin also set out how government is embracing rapid developments in artificial intelligence.

He revealed that an artificial intelligence team piloted last year in the Cabinet Office will become a permanent unit for exploring automation and innovation across government.

“I am excited to announce that, following last year’s pilot, the incubator for Automation and Innovation, known as i.AI, will become a permanent civil service team focused on some of our most important and intractable challenges,” Quin said.

Little is known about the unit, which doesn’t have a GOV.UK page, but it is described in civil service job adverts as a software development team “using rapid prototyping to catalyse change in the civil service through automation and innovation…experimenting with new ways of working while delivering high quality digital products”.

Part of the Cabinet Office/Prime Minister’s Delivery Group, it has worked on projects including designing and developing the Evaluation Registry, a new single online focus for evaluations across government.

On how government is responding to advances in AI, Quin said: “Our central team of digital and technology experts is creating a practical framework to put this technology to work across the civil service, solving problems of privacy, ethics and security, and bringing insights and best practice from industry.”

AI tools are already assisting Department for Education calculations about apprenticeship placements and a Department of Work and Pensions programme to help disabled people into work, Quin added.

 

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