Government-backed leadership centre to develop future public service chiefs

New centre should build a network of people ready to take on top jobs in order to help leaders to drive innovation and improvement across services 

Taskforce chair Sir Gerry Grimstone Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

31 Oct 2018

The government is to set out plans for a new academy that will train future leaders across public services, boosting innovation and cooperation, after a taskforce set out five key challenges faced by new bosses in major public services.

The plan for a Centre for Public Services Leadership was published alongside the Budget by a taskforce formed by government last year to review the quality of leadership across the public sector.

The 19-strong taskforce led by Sir Gerry Grimstone, the lead non-executive director at the Ministry of Defence and chair of Standard Life, concluded a new programme aimed at “emerging top leaders of public services” could improve productivity by creating a new home for collaborative leadership.


The taskforce, which also included David Halpern of the Behavioural Insights Team and Richard Nugee, the chief of Defence People,  identified five key challenges as part of the transition to senior leadership in areas like schools, the NHS, and policing, as well as some government delivery roles. These are: the obligation to work effectively with an overseeing body or board; the lack of line manager support requiring a high degree of resilience; the visibility and exposure to all forms of media; the need to set organisational culture; and the requirement to work across services to achieve success.

“These five factors together define a unique transition point, so designing an integrated offer would be an effective opportunity to help emerging top leaders achieve their potential in these roles,” the report stated.

According to the taskforce, the most difficult challenges faced by public services are complex and cross-cutting, so more effective collaboration between them is a source of considerable public value, but some senior leaders feel very exposed by their new responsibilities, and are not sure where to turn for support.

Leadership training in the centre will therefore be based on three areas: understanding service impact through data analysis and user experience; leadership, innovation, technology and productivity; and cross-services leadership.

The new centre will be based in the Cabinet Office, but intends to develop a distinct identity and recognisable brand, similar to the Infrastructure Projects Authority, according to the report.

Those estimated to be within two years of potentially taking on principal executive responsibility in a public service organisation would be eligible for the course, which would provide “context-led experiential training and opportunities to develop their leadership skills, knowledge and behaviours”.

According to the report, the centre should run four cohorts annually, with each of around 30 people. Programmes will run for a year including three short residential courses and a national networking event.

In his foreword to the report, Grimstone said that the taskforce “held detailed discussions about the potential for the leaders of our public services to transform the productivity and outcomes of the services they lead”.

He added: “Our research suggests that the success of our public services depends, at least in part, on effective and collaborative leaders who can form strong partnerships across organisational boundaries. In this report, we set out how the new Centre for Public Services Leadership could create a programme and professional network for the emerging top leaders of our public services, to enhance the effectiveness of their collaborative leadership.

“Our recommendations are high-level because we know that getting the programme right will take time and need thorough user research. But we believe the centre’s impact could mean our public services form new and powerful partnerships across the boundaries that define them, so they tackle tomorrow’s challenges together.”

Following the publication of the report, the Budget Red Book revealed that the government had allocated £10m annually to run the centre for three years from next April.

The taskforce recommended that the work of the centre is formally evaluated after three years, with a small research capability established to monitor its work and examine the relationship between leadership and productivity.

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