World class public services require people with not just great skills but also diverse experience. Our Civil Service performs exceptionally well, but we can never stand still as we strive for smarter ways of working and greater efficiency in all that we do.
Diverse experience isn't difficult to obtain in the Civil Service: the range of policymaking and public service delivery that we undertake is vast. But when it comes to looking for innovative ideas and new ways of approaching things, we typically turn overseas, taking the best from international examples where there is a concept or methodology that can be applied closer to home. How often do we look within the boundaries of the UK to see what's new, what's working elsewhere and what we can learn from? Not nearly enough.
That's one of the reasons I welcome the new One Civil Service interchange scheme announced last week at Civil Service Live in Edinburgh. It is open to civil servants working in UK government departments, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government. Our one Civil Service supports three administrations and there is much that we can learn from each other.
This new scheme is different from anything we have tried before. It offers traditional interchange arrangements such as 1-2 year postings. But it also includes lighter touch options such as job shadowing and mentoring. So you don’t have to move house to interchange on this scheme; and this flexibility will enable more exchange of knowledge and skills to take place. We should also take advantage of the opportunities of flexible working that comes with the better IT that we are moving towards.
Understanding the UK today
The devolution settlements are changing, so now is the time to understand more about how our devolved system of government works – and there is nothing like the direct experience that an interchange opportunity provides for getting this.
The different policies of the three governments and the range of delivery models across administrations offer the Civil Service the chance to see what is working elsewhere and to transfer or adapt that to our own areas of work. We could and should be doing this as a matter of routine. Being part of one Civil Service with shared values and a passion for delivering for citizens wherever they live in the UK will help us to achieve this.
Having different experience really stands out, and offering a different perspective can only add value. Anyone with the ambition to reach the top of our Civil Service will need in future to show a good, practical grasp of our constitutional framework and the opportunities it brings.
Devolution and You
All of us need to understand the constitutional basics. That’s why the Civil Service Board and I gave our support to the “Devolution and You” learning campaign that started this summer, and a new suite of learning and resources for all civil servants is in development.
The Devolution Toolkit was published recently. It is an important resource for anyone that has questions about devolution and wants to understand what they can do to develop good, strong working relationships with colleagues in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Take the economy for example, where policy levers cut across devolution boundaries. We can achieve much more to drive economic growth and support people by working collaboratively. The toolkit offers policy officials advice on how to work across the UK and assess the UK wide impact and opportunities of any policy changes.
A better understanding of the UK today will help us to see the opportunities of working more collaboratively across administrations, building wider networks and acquiring greater knowledge. All of this will be much simpler to achieve with this new scheme. More information will be published soon but if you are interested email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more. I would encourage you to apply for it.