Matt Hancock: No more "gifted amateurs" – civil servants must specialise

Exclusive: Civil service workforce plan launches with promise to increase specialisation, improve training – and review the civil service "reward offer"

Matt Hancock vowed more support to help civil servants specialise as he launched the organisation's new workforce plan. Photo: Paul Heartfield

By Suzannah Brecknell

12 Jul 2016

Minister for the Cabinet Office Matt Hancock has called for an end to the generalist civil servant, declaring that specialisation should now be seen as the way to succeed.

Speaking at Civil Service Live in London on Tuesday, Hancock launched a new workforce plan for the civil service, included measures aimed at deepening professionalisation, broadening recruitment and reviewing pay structures for all civil servants.

He said: “Gone are the days of the gifted amateur. Today's world is too complex and demands are too high. 

“I'd say to everyone wanting to build a career in the civil service: specialise; focus on your strengths; become the expert, become the best in the world at what you do. Don't flit around. And under the new plans for a professionalised civil service you will be rewarded.” 

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Hancock said the civil service needed to do more to build career paths allowing specialist employees to reach the top grades, and he pointed to the new Fast Stream programmes for digital, commercial, finance, project delivery and HR professionals as evidence of the new approach.

The Cabinet Office minister also detailed another move aimed at supporting deeper specialisation, announcing that rules preventing in-post promotions are set be changed.

“We want to stop the absurd reality that to get a promotion you have to move," he said. "It prevents people getting deep experience and staying put to see a job through, and encourages people to flit from one job to another."

Reward review

His speech also sought to address the issue of civil service reward packages, announcing that alongside a new deal for commercial staff and a review of terms for digital staff, there would be a review of the reward framework for all civil servants.

He said: “The reward offer needs to provide value for money. But it also needs to be fair. We need a total reward package that can continue to attract talented people. Both now and in the future.”

The new Government Commercial Organisation was first approved in May, and will centrally employ commercial staff at Grade 6 and above on potentially better pay and terms than they would be otherwise offered in departments, subject to them gaining the right accreditation.

“The reward offer needs to provide value for money. But it also needs to be fair" – Matt Hancock

Hancock said the GCO would “create structured career paths and offer a competitive reward proposition through a set of new pay ranges".

The review of pay for digital specialists will take place “over this year”, Hancock said, but he did not give details on any timeline for the review of all civil servants' pay.

Civil service pay was frozen for two years in 2010, with annual rises since 2012 capped at 1%. Under current Treasury policy, those rises will continue to be limited until the end of the current parliament, a move that has attracted criticism from all three of the main civil service unions.

Hancock also outlined work to make the civil service more diverse, saying the organisation needed to cast its net "wider and further".

"We should be attracting and developing the best talent from right across our society, no matter who they are or where they come from," he said.

The minister vowed that recruitment would be broadened, with all civil service posts being advertised externally by default. This will begin with the Senior Civil Service, before being rolled out to all grades by the end of this parliament.

In a bid to help improve the way the civil service identifies and supports talented staff, Hancock also promised a "comprehensive review of the employee experience", and reiterated his pledge to make the organisation "more porous" by expanding secondment opportunities.

No more "laissez-faire attitude to training"

The workforce plan also promises changes to the way civil servants choose the learning and development they undertake each year, with Hancock saying that “a laissez-faire attitude to training” had in the past encouraged staff to “train in what they fancy or think will be useful".

Now, managers will take a more hands-on role in deciding what training their teams need, minister said.

“Training is part of a manager's toolkit. Part of the role of the line manager is to guide people's careers. This means steering – and requiring – training that a member of staff needs.”

"Part of the role of the line manager is to guide people's careers. This means steering – and requiring – training that a member of staff needs" – Matt Hancock

There will be more focus on training for managers, Hancock promised, with a “new flagship leaderhe ship academy working with leading academics to provide world-class learning” and support better leadership across the service. 

Plans to launch the leadership academy were first revealed late last year, with KPMG and Korn Ferry Hay Group chosen to run the new academy.

Hancock also pointed to reforms – already in progress – of the Civil Service Learning scheme for officials, something the minister described as an important part of supporting civil servants whose work as been “disrupted” by digital transformation.

“We must support this disruption, and support those disrupted,” he said of digital changes. “And support for those whose jobs are disrupted puts a focus on training and skills like never before.”

In the wake of Britain's vote to leave the European Union, Hancock opened his speech by acknowledging that the civil service had always faced challenges in serving the government of the day.

And, hinting at accusations that the civil service will not be able to deliver Brexit, he said: “Through this change, the legitimacy of the civil service rests on its service of the democratically elected government of the day.

“I know the civil service will turn brilliantly to deliver on the new direction the people have set our nation on.” He added that the workforce plan would help to “equip the civil service to deliver its mission for the people of our country.”

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