Olly Robbins defends new Talent Action Plan

Oliver Robbins, director-general, civil service, has spoken out in defence of the government’s new Talent Action Plan – designed to promote diversity in the civil service – after a blog about its publication attracted 130 comments on the civil service website.

By Winnie.Agbonlahor

19 Sep 2014

Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood took to his blog on 5 September to introduce the new plan, writing that it “sets out some concrete and practical actions the civil service can take – for example the introduction of leading-edge terms and conditions for shared parental leave and ending, except by exception, all male interview panels.”

His blog attracted a wide range of comments, prompting a response by Robbins (pictured) in which he thanked everyone for their numerous contributions – a reaction, he wrote, that shows “the civil service cares so much about its own health and talent”.

Robbins said that “some cross-civil service themes and questions” had emerged in responses to the plan – particularly criticisms of its lack of concrete targets; comments about its focus on gender rather than ethnic minorities, disabled people and LGBT people; and concerns that “ending all male shortlists and panels will lead to tokenism.”

He continued: “Some of you are concerned that without new targets, the plan will not bite. But we wanted to lay out a plan that is informed by evidence about the obstacles people face, and focuses on removing those barriers to truly meritocratic recruitment and appointment.

“That is why this is a plan that focuses on practical steps – from shared parental leave and improving mentoring opportunities, to focusing hard on defining and then holding ourselves to account for great leadership across the service.

“We are fortunate to have a good deal of information about people’s experiences in the Civil Service, especially thanks to the annual People Survey. Used intelligently, the Survey can tell us a great deal about how open and inclusive our organisations are, and how that is changing over time. But we are also trying to deepen our evidence about the obstacles preventing talented people from a variety of backgrounds progressing, and will be conducting more research, updating our plan in response.”

Progress in the plan’s implementation will be tracked and summarised in a “full report a year from now”, he said.

Heywood’s blog had attracted a broad spread of comments, from calling the plan a “step in the right direction” to panning it as “yet more civil service bluff and spin and a load of vacuous meaningless management speak” or “another PR exercise”.

Commentators also raised concerns over the civil service’s limited capability to attract and keep talent due to its pay constraints and its rigid talent management system.


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