Top commercial staff to ditch traditional civil service grade structure

"Senior cadre" of specialists will sit outside of the familiar Whitehall hierarchy as part of efforts to give them a more clearly-defined career structure

By Matt Foster

20 Jul 2016

Career progression for Whitehall's senior commercial staff will not be tied to the traditional civil service grade structure, it has emerged, as the government presses on with a wide-ranging shake-up of the commercial function.

It was revealed earlier this year that hundreds of commercial specialists are set to be directly employed – potentially on better pay and terms – by a new Government Commercial Organisation based in the Cabinet Office, and loaned back to departments who pay the central team a fee for its services.

The new unit will assess and then hire all senior commercial staff at Grade 6 and above, with the GCO drawing up their contracts, managing their performance and treating them as an "entire cohort with targeted learning and development opportunities", provided that they gain accreditation in commercial skills from a dedicated Assessment and Development Centre.

New Government Commercial Organisation to employ "hundreds" of senior commercial staff on better pay and terms
New unit to oversee "enhanced pay and grading structure" for Whitehall's commercial staff
Transforming Public Sector Productivity

A newly-published set of "People Standards" for the Government Commercial Function confirms that this "senior cadre" of specialists will sit outside of the familiar Whitehall hierarchy as part of efforts to give them a more clearly-defined career structure.

"Typically, this group will be made up of Grade 7/6 staff and above," the document states. "However, the reason why we are establishing these new levels is that they will not be tied directly to traditional civil service grades. Instead, they are tied to attainment of specified competency levels in Judgement & Leadership, together with Expertise in commercial skill areas."

Instead of career progression being dependent on the move from Grades 7 to 6 to the Senior Civil Service level, commercial specialists will operate on four new levels. 

From the least to most senior, they are "commercial lead", "associate commercial specialist", "commercial specialist" and "senior commercial specialist".

According to the document, commercial leads will typically be commercial managers running small teams, while associate commercial specialists will be "a leader within the department's commercial function", who is "actively building capability across the function".

Meanwhile, commercial specialists, the next level up, are described as being "a senior leader within the department", while, at the top of the new structure senior commercial specialists will typically be "a senior departmental leader, specialising in commercial, with responsibility for a directorate or key business function". 

The People Standards document says senior commercial specialists will be able to assess and shape "pan-government policies from a commercial perspective", and set the "overall commercial vision and strategy" for their department.

They must also have an "up-to-date understanding of the global context and markets within which government departments, suppliers and businesses operate".

The new accreditation model being drawn up for the Government Commercial Function will be tied to these four new levels of seniority, with those who pass different stages of accreditation being "badged" as officials who are "able to operate effectively at a specified commercial level and in specified commercial disciplines".

The Cabinet Office also wants the new People Standards to be used for career planning, helping individuals looking for promotion in the commercial profession to "identify the experience and skills required to enable them to progress".

"Inherited from the industrial era"

The move to ditch the traditional grade civil service grade structure for commercial leaders, comes as the government also draws up plans to change the career path for digital specialists. 

The head of the Government Digital Service, Stephen Foreshew-Cain, has said he wants to see a "new professional model for digital staff" which allows them to "grow and develop within the civil service".

That was acknowledged in last week's publication of the Civil Service Workforce Plan last week, with then-Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock saying the civil service needed to do more to build career structures that would allow specialist staff to reach the top grades without having to "flit around" between departments.

And, writing for CSW, former DWP permanent secretary Sir Leigh Lewis also called for a rethink of the grade system, saying it was stopping "effective delivery" and leading to talented officials moving on to other departments in order to secure promotion.

Responding to Sir Leigh's piece, Foreshew-Cain tweeted: "Time for a civil service designed for the digital era, not inherited from the industrial one.

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