Lanyard decree missing from new EDI guidance

Proposal to ban lanyards that aren’t “standard design” not included in Cabinet Office guidance on equality, diversity and inclusion
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By Tevye Markson

15 May 2024

Plans to standardise the lanyards that civil servants wear are not included in new equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) guidance published by the Cabinet Office after ministers rowed back on the proposal.

On Monday, minister Esther McVey outlined a series of “common sense” changes to EDI work in the civil service, including moving diversity jobs into HR teams, blocking external spending – and getting civil servants to wear standardised lanyards.  

The Cabinet Office released new guidance on EDI on Tuesday afternoon which sets out aims to “enact greater control” over EDI spending and activity across the civil service. But the guidance makes no mention of lanyards, after the prime minister and defence secretary both distanced themselves from McVey’s plan.

McVey said in a speech at the Centre for Policy Studies think tank that lanyards “shouldn't be a random pick and mix, they should be a standard design reflecting that we are all members of the government delivering for the citizens of the UK”.

“Working in the civil service is all about leaving your political views at the building entrance. Trying to introduce them by the back door via lanyards should not happen,” she added.

She also said in a Q&A session following the speech that perm secs would be tasked with ensuring civil servants follow the lanyard commandment.

Asked what the consequence would be if people don’t comply with the lanyard edict, she said: “That would be for the permanent secretary to do. She believes the people will comply. And, of course, we will have provided the lanyards so people can wear them. But people need to think to themselves why they would be doing that rather than promoting where they’re working.”

But Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson said on Tuesday that the minister was only giving “an example” and the guidance would not be “proscriptive in that sense”.

Sunak was also asked about lanyards by Keir Starmer at Prime Minister's Questions today. Starmer joked that McVey had announced a "vital crackdown on the gravest of threats – colourful lanyards".

Responding, Sunak said "civil service impartiality is an important principle that we're right to support" and suggested Starmer ask his chief of staff, the former Cabinet Office sec perm sec Sue Gray, about it. Ministers claimed Gray's failure to declare contact with Labour leader Keir Starmer whilst she was a civil servant was a "prima facie" breach of the civil service code, although the government appointments watchdog disagreed that she broke any rules.

Defence secretary Grant Shapps also dismissed the idea of banning lanyards, telling Times Radio: “Personally, I don’t mind people expressing their views on these things. What lanyard somebody wears, doesn’t particularly concern me.”

Two other proposals announced by McVey – closing down civil service networks which “have moved to a place of political and religious activism” and removing "unnecessary" and "distracting" information from civil service job adverts – are also not mentioned in the guidance.

What’s in the guidance?

The guidance sets out stricter rules on external EDI spending, and outlines plans to move EDI jobs to HR teams, as promised by  McVey in her speech.

It also details proposals to centralise decision-making on internal EDI spending and outlines how government will ramp up evaluation of all EDI spending and reduce duplication.

The publication of the new guidance follows a review of EDI expenditure ordered by the chancellor.

As McVey set out on Monday, the guidance states all external EDI spend in the civil service will “cease” unless signed off and cleared by ministers “on advice from officials”. 

It states this approval can also be delegated to permanent secreatries and a similar process will apply to arms-length bodies, except that the principal accounting officer, in consultation with the Board, will be in charge of authorising the expenditure. or can be delegated to permanent secretaries.

Exemptions will be centrally recorded and published annually in department’s accounts and in government-wide form by the Cabinet Office.

The guidance also sets out a series of “internal efficiency measures”, which it says are to be “considered” by the civil service.

This includes "incorporating standalone EDI staffing roles into broader” HR roles, one of the proposals McVey announced on Monday. McVey took aim at “woke hobby horses” and said officials undertaking EDI work would be asked to focus on statutory obligations. However, she said no jobs would be lost as a result of the changes.

The guidance states that responsibility for EDI delivery “should be embedded into HR professionals’ broader accountabilities” and says HR professionals should take ownership of EDI to “move away from tokenistic, albeit well-intentioned actions” and to focus on “delivering better outcomes” for citizens.

EDI work should focus on “recruitment, talent management, learning & development, leadership, culture and tackling bullying harassment and discrimination when it occurs”, it adds.

The other measures to improve internal efficiency are: centralising EDI guidance and consolidating “suitable” EDI learning content into the government-wide Civil Service Learning offer.

The former measure aims to promote consistency, drive best practice, prevent duplication, and limit risks of “conflicting with impartiality or the Government position on broader equality legislation”.

On the three internal efficiency measures, the guidance states: “The civil service will consider these measures, at the centre and in departments and ALBs, as part of professionalising the approach to EDI delivery and improving the value for money and return on investment."

The guidance, which is split into general and spending-specific documents, also sets out what the government is doing to ensure there is “robust evaluation of any EDI activity undertaken in the civil service” as set out in the Civil Service D&I Strategy.

The Cabinet Office said the guidance “is intended to support civil servants working on diversity and inclusion issues” in the delivery of the D&I strategy “where additional consideration is required”.

The guidance applies to all civil servants, excluding those working for the Scottish and Welsh Governments and their agencies  and the Diplomatic Service. It does, however, apply to civil servants working in non-ministerial departments in England, Scotland and Wales.

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