Normington: Pay cap is a barrier to filling gaps created by lack of investment in key skills

Government must be prepared to pay higher salaries if it is to attract top talent from the private and wider public sectors, first civil service commissioner Sir David Normington told the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) last week.

By Suzannah.Brecknell

21 Feb 2013

As MPs quizzed Normington about skills gaps within the civil service, he said: “If you need to go to into the market to recruit the skills and capability that you haven’t got in the civil service, then you will have to have flexibility, and the pay cap is a barrier.” The coalition-imposed cap means that civil servants cannot be paid more than the prime minister without Treasury approval.

Normington was previously permanent secretary at the Home Office, where he authored a report that was critical of the pay gap between external and internal appointments to the senior civil service. In the report, he called on government to develop a more effective talent management strategy so that it could develop key skills within the civil service.

At the PASC hearing he again asserted that government has not invested enough in skills development, and does not adequately recognise key skills – for example, by promoting those with delivery or commercial experience.

In response to a request from PASC chair Bernard Jenkin, Normington agreed to prepare a paper looking at the issues of attracting and retaining the necessary skills within the civil service.

Normington also suggested that government should consider how it can structure pay packages “so that [people] are incentivised to stay in the role, and to get their main pay when they have delivered something. It isn’t rocket science; it’s obvious, frankly, and it’s time somebody got on with it.”

At a separate PASC hearing, former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell also spoke of the need for appropriate reward packages. He highlighted the Olympics as a project that was successful in part because of its “big incentive schemes”.

“We do not have those freedoms for other projects, alas,” he said. Lord Browne, the government’s lead non-executive director, also named talent management and the use of incentives as two areas where the public sector could learn from business. Incentive structures should be part of policy design, he suggested, not “administration”.

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