MPs to investigate Civil Service People Survey amid concern at department 'inaction'

PACAC will also look into why survey response rates vary so much between organisations
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By Tevye Markson

15 Jul 2022

MPs will investigate the civil service’s annual staff satisfaction survey amid criticism that departments fail to act on concerns raised by staff.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has announced a new inquiry into the Civil Service People Survey, the largest barometer of officials’ satisfaction in government.

The inquiry will investigate how departments act on the results of the poll and why participation varies so much from one department to another.

“We are concerned by the low participation in the people survey in some departments as well as reports that results are not acted upon satisfactorily. We want to see why this is and what can be done, to enable civil service leaders to improve outcomes for staff," committee chair William Wragg said.

The annual census-style survey is sent to more than half a million civil servants, across more than 100 government departments, bodies and agencies.

Officials are asked questions about staff wellbeing, morale, views on civil service leadership and vision, pay and career progression, and bullying and harassment.

The PCS union raised concerns in October that departments are failing to follow up on issues raised in the survey, calling on civil servants at the Ministry of Justice to boycott the questionnaire.

The union accused the department of "desiring a high participation rate to demonstrate that staff engagement is high, rather than addressing the issues and concerns highlighted by the survey responses".

An MoJ spokesperson said at the time that engagement was "determined by what our staff tell us, rather than the number who respond",  and that the people survey was "a vital part of how we work to improve the lives of our dedicated staff".

PACAC will examine survey response rates, due to some organisations having reported very low participation among their staff. HM Prison Service had the lowest participation rate,with 23.3% of its employees taking part.

The MPs will also consider improvements can be made to the design and delivery of the survey and how accurately the results reflect reality.

The committee is asking for evidence from current and former civil servants, departments that take part in the survey, those who have helped to develop and administer the surveys, and unions.

“The civil service is essential in delivering government policy and providing vital public services across the UK,” Wragg said.

“It is therefore of paramount importance that civil servants remain motivated and satisfied in their roles, and the people survey is an effective gauge of staff experience.

“It will be the first time we scrutinise this area and we encourage anyone with experience of the people survey, or similar large-scale workplace satisfaction surveys, to submit evidence to our inquiry.”

Submissions must be submitted by 26 August.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The Civil Service People Survey helps government organisations learn about staff experiences and improve ways of working. 

“62% of people responded to the 2021 survey, which compares favourably with other public sector surveys, but we continuously strive for higher engagement levels.

“These findings have supported improvements and enabled the civil service to continually be recognised as one of the best employers.”

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