Milestone-based reward trial for senior civil servants to begin in summer

John Glen announces pilot of long-awaited approach to reducing churn and driving up performance standards
Glen said the move will help build a "resilient and high-performing civil service". Photo: Richard Lincoln/Alamy Live News

The Cabinet Office is gearing up to trial a long-awaited approach tying senior civil service pay to performance, John Glen has announced.

A milestone-based pay pilot – under which some senior officials will receive a higher sum if they meet agreed milestones on projects they manage – will begin this summer, according to the minister.

Speaking at the Reform think tank annual conference in London this morning, Glen said the move would happen as part of a broader approach to improving performance management in the civil service.

The Cabinet Office revealed that it was working on plans to introduce milestone-based reward, which aims to reduce turnover by incentivising senior civil servants to stay in their jobs for the full duration of important projects they are working on, in 2022.

However, the following year, it said it had halted work on the approach because of pressures on resources and competing priorities.

Announcing the pilot today, Glen said the new approach would support recruitment in priority areas by making reward packages more enticing to would-be applicants without increasing basic salaries.

Today’s speech built on an earlier one Glen delivered at the Institute for Government in January, in which he announced he was working a review of the civil service's approach to performance management.

He told the IfG that performance-management standards "can too often vary between teams and departments", as well as revealing that senior officials' yearly appraisals would take into account their success with implementing the government’s drive for civil servants to spend 60% of their time in the office.

Glen used today's speech to highlight a number of areas being looked at in an effort to improve performance.

He announced a review of the “external-by-default” recruitment policy for SCS roles, which was introduced in May 2022. The policy means all senior jobs must be advertised externally, unless a minister has personally approved an internal recruitment process.

The Civil Service Commission will monitor data on SCS recruitment to ensure the policy is being implemented, Glen said. The commission will ensure that any exceptions to the policy – which is designed to increase competition and the flow of private sector expertise into the civil service – are properly justified.

Meanwhile, Glen said he is interested in "broadening management span and flattening organisational structures" in government. He said senior civil servants tend to line manage too few people, leading to issues such as micro management – and that there is too much hierarchy in the civil service.

Asked how he plans to do this, given the Cabinet Office has no direct levers to tell departments what organisational structures to use, Glen said his aim is to ensure there are “authoritative, well-sourced and researched and justified platforms, advice and functions” in place.

He said "exceptionalism" in individual departments "needs to be challenged", using this evidence.

He also stressed the importance of holding ministers to account. “I will write to secretaries of state and say [for example]: ‘Where are you with your places for growth commitments? Why have you only moved X people when you should have committed to Y?’ That's a dynamic that needs to carry on with some tension to it, I suspect, but you only have the right to make those observations if what you're doing in the centre in the Cabinet Office is authoritative," he said.

Glen was also asked how the plans aligned with ministers’ goal to reduce the size of the civil service by some 70,000 staff.

He said the next spending review will be the “process for resolving” where the job cuts fall.

He said his drive to improve performance management was not driven by “some sort of ideological, philosophical reasoning about the size of this state”, but that it may end up contributing to the headcount reduction as poor performers are weeded out.

“What I'm saying is that where you've got poor performance, it needs to be addressed,” he said.

“Now the ultimate consequence of that is that those people will leave. And I'm saying at the moment that that journey – for poor performance to be recognised and the consequences of that to flow through – isn't happening efficiently, and it's having a negative effect on how departments operate.

“To build a world-class civil service that truly delivers for the public, we must start with the people," Glen said.

“We need to recruit the brightest minds, ensure they have the tools and skills to succeed, and take swift action when performance falls below expected standards.

“The measures I’ve set out today will help to meet today’s productivity challenge head on, building a resilient and high-performing civil service that is fit for the future.”

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