Skills plan mandatory, says Sir Bob

All government departments will be required to deliver the goals outlined in the civil service Capabilities Plan released last week, Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service, has told CSW.


By Civil Service World

26 Apr 2013

“We are clear that this is a corporate model that we expect all departments to go with,” he said. “It is mandated. It is not an optional plan.” He added that he has written to all permanent secretaries to emphasise their role in turning the plan into reality, and will hold them to account for doing so.

The document, drawn up by the Cabinet Office, sets out a range of actions designed to address organisational and skills gaps within Whitehall. It focuses on four key areas: project management, commercial skills, change management, and digital skills.

Critics have argued that it seems short on concrete action or structural reform. Patrick Dunleavy, professor of political science and public policy at the London School of Economics, said: “Whoever wrote the document has a good idea of what the problems are and what needs to change. But lots of civil servants will spot that it is largely aspirational.” And during a Public Administration Select Committee session last week, chair Bernard Jenkin told Kerslake: “I am sceptical that the responsibility for achieving these outcomes is sufficiently focused in one person with enough power and sense of obligation and respect to get this done. It feels too scattered.”

However, Kerslake rejected their suggestions that the plan lacks hard levers. It aims to break down the “federal model” of the civil service, he said, but by unifying rather than centralising Whitehall. “If you look at history, very centralised systems didn’t work terribly well,” he argued. “We need the best of both worlds.”

In procurement, the plan does boost the centre’s role: departments’ commercial or procurement directors will have a “strengthened reporting line” direct to the chief procurement officer, it says, giving them a say in appraisals and recruitment.

The document’s main focus, though, is on building departments’ own capacity: for example, new digital teams overseen by “service managers” will be created within the seven departments carrying out most online transactions. And it outlines a raft of training initiatives aimed at high-flyers, plus a digital awareness programme for all civil servants. Kerslake was unable to say how much these initiatives would cost, but suggested they’d be funded from efficiency savings.

The document also includes proposals for a “new offer” to attract and retain major projects leaders. Kerslake said that he’s examining a measure that would allow such leaders to progress to higher grades while staying in a single project management job, rather than having to move on in search of promotion. “We want to make sure people are not disadvantaged in promotion terms by staying with a project,” he said.

See our feature on the new plan

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