National Leadership Centre takes in first cohort of public servants

Outgoing HMRC chief Sir Jon Thompson appointed to board of pan-public sector leadership scheme 


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By Richard Johnstone

12 Sep 2019

The government’s flagship National Leadership Centre has accepted its first cohort of officials from a spectrum of the public sector as part of moves to improve leadership across a host of services.

The training academy, which was first proposed after a review of public sector leadership led by Ministry of Defence lead non-executive director Sir Gerry Grimstone, is “a national offer for the most senior leaders of public services”.

The programme, the first of its kind in England, will bring together leaders of public services to provide them coaching in areas including future technologies, like AI and robotics, to understand how they can both embrace new tools and collaborate to transform public service.


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The first cohort of invited participants includes police chief constables, fire service chiefs and hospital chief executives, who will begin to receive coaching from today.

The aim of the scheme is to develop the skills of over 100 senior public service leaders every year, with the coaching programme developed with support from Oxford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The 12-month programme will include three residential modules, as well as psychometric analysis and coaching.

One of the participants in the scheme, Wiltshire Police chief constable Kier Pritchard, said that being part of the first group provided the chance “to learn from world leaders and meet those in similar roles across the system will no doubt help in developing the leadership skills I use every day”.

He added: “The programme aims to improve the way public sector leaders operate together which of course will improve the service we provide to the public. It is a privilege to take up this opportunity.”

Launching the centre today, civil service chief executive John Manzoni said it was an exciting moment. “Those involved will learn from the very best and develop a fantastic network offering knowledge sharing and peer support,” he said.

“The development of our senior leaders will help them drive improvement in the UK’s crucial services the public use every day."

The Cabinet Office also announced the members of the centre’s advisory board. It will be chaired by Dame Sara Thornton, the government’s independent anti-slavery commissioner, and former chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council and ex-chief constable of Thames Valley Police. It will also include outgoing HMRC chief Sir Jon Thompson.

Thornton said: “The National Leadership Centre provides a unique opportunity to support cross sector leadership in public service, through its leadership programme, networking and research. It is a privilege to have been appointed as Chair to help shape the centre’s strategic direction.

“I look forward to working with leaders across a variety of sectors in order to ensure our public service continues to thrive and serve the public in the best way possible.”

The first people to participate in the programme have been invited, but in future years entry will be through application. As well as bosses at the top of public sector organisations, the taksforce set out plans for the centre to include "emerging top leaders", whose next career move would be to the top of organisations.

Another aim is to build a strong network of leaders who have a wide understanding of the work and challenges of their public sector peers, allowing greater sharing of experience across top jobs. The network is expected to include departmental permanent secretaries and director generals, as well as local authority chief executives and the heads of large further education colleges or school academy chains.

The centre will “bring leaders together through national, regional and small group events”, according to its website. “This will allow peers to make time, outside formal governance or partnership structures, to work together to address the problems that are most pressing.” There is also plans for a digital service to connect top public officials.

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