It's a common refrain from workforces everywhere that they would like more influence over the running of their organisation. As civil servants, it's true, we have the annual People Survey - one of the biggest staff surveys of its kind - but what permanent, formal channels exist through which we can actively contribute and make our views known on issues that matter to us?
Well, in March this year, I and 9 other civil servants below SCS level were nominated by our departmental permanent secretaries to be members of the Civil Service Shadow Board (CSSB).
What is the Civil Service Shadow Board?
To mix metaphors, the Shadow Board mirrors the Civil Service Board (CSB), the group responsible for the strategic leadership of the Civil Service. It is made up of representatives from the same ten departments, and examines the same topics and issues as the CSB.
As Sir Jeremy Heywood mentioned in a previous blog, the Shadow Board has three main objectives:
- to provide views on the papers going to CSB in advance of each monthly board meeting
- to undertake specific corporate projects for CSB to support its management and reform of the Civil Service
- to develop a communication role to support the work of CSB both at a service-wide level and within individual departments
Let’s look at each of these.
1. Providing views on CSB papers
The CSB meets monthly for two hours on a Monday morning. Ahead of each meeting, the Shadow Board get together and feed back on papers to be discussed by permanent secretaries at CSB the following Wednesday.
One member of the Shadow Board then writes and presents a paper which summarises our thoughts and makes recommendations. In a way, we are like a critical friend, offering constructive challenge to try and achieve a better outcome. But we are also a sounding board for changes CSB wish to make to the Civil Service. What has pleasantly surprised all of us is the level of engagement and trust that we have experienced from members of CSB. They really do take our suggestions seriously!
2. Corporate projects
Members of the Shadow Board have been working on two corporate projects to try and solve a specific challenge facing the Civil Service.
The first of these projects is focused on how we can develop talent in the regions and looks at these main questions:
- What are the challenges? Is work outside the centre valued less? Are there fewer opportunities? Is there less sense of belonging? Are those in the regions more likely to experience unconscious bias or IT and logistical challenges?
- Do the challenges vary by region? Do talented people find it difficult to develop a varied and upward career within any given region?
- Is it possible to develop a varied and upward civil service career across the country? Or is it too difficult to uproot a family? Does an attachment to your home department prevent you from taking up a post in another region?
- Is it difficult to recruit talent in specialist/business-critical roles in some parts of the country? The second corporate project concentrates on how to increase movement of civil servants in and out of the service. For example, through interchange with the private sector, NGOs and other parts of the public sector, such as the NHS. As well as interchange and secondments (temporary exchange), we are also looking at the permanent movement of staff, but with an easier route back into the Civil Service.
We are due to present our views to the CSB in December, so would love to hear about your experiences and any ideas you may have on either of these projects before then.
3. Communication role
In all honesty, this is probably the objective that we have been slowest to get going on, despite arguably being the most important of them all. But we hope that this blog will be one of many from the Shadow Board. We are keen to engage with every corner of the Civil Service, and I think our choice of corporate projects reflects and shows our commitment to this.
Please use the comments section of this blog to give us any thoughts or questions you might have on the Civil Service Shadow Board. We would particularly appreciate your thoughts on our corporate projects.