One of the many contributions made by Dame Lin Homer was chairing the Civil Service People Board. I am very pleased to have taken on this role from Lin – I chaired my first meeting this week. So, it’s a good time to blog about what the board actually does and demystify it a bit.
What is the People Board, and what does it do?
The board is a sub-committee of the full Civil Service Board chaired by Jeremy Heywood and focuses on people issues. This involves considering how the Civil Service positions itself as a modern employer – attracting and retaining people with the right skills; building an inclusive environment that identifies and encourages talent; and understanding the internal and external factors that influence how we operate.
The board doesn’t aim to do departments’ jobs for them – senior leaders in each department are responsible for good management and have the flexibility they need to accommodate their priorities. But, increasingly, we must also act together. Through the Civil Service Workforce Strategy we can mobilise our leaders on issues that matter to the whole organisation: whether it is setting common rules in areas such as senior pay; establishing a single set of functions for our HR expertise that are shared across departments; or collaborating to deliver better learning and development through Civil Service Learning.
The board has 16 members, drawn from different departments, with a mix of permanent secretaries, directors-general and leaders of the HR profession. We meet monthly and often have people sitting in on our meetings as observers – something, as chair, I want to happen more systematically.
Over the last few years, the board has overseen big changes in a number of areas. For example, it has: reformed the Fast Stream to give corporate generalist Fast-Streamers experience in at least three different departments, and a secondment outside central government; set the strategy for a programme to radically increase quality apprenticeships to at least 30,000 over this Parliament; overseen a new cross-Civil Service system of ‘surge management’ to help departments experiencing sudden work pressures (as used recently by DCMS to manage the BBC Charter consultation.)
Most recently, the board brought departments together to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination. This has informed efforts to create more inclusive cultures within the Civil Service. A programme of work is underway to create a toolkit for departments to use in areas where high levels of bullying and harassment have been identified.
One of our priorities is to ensure we get the basics right for our people, whether it is paying them correctly and on time, or giving the right pensions information. Other big themes include continuing to build really strong leadership; taking a more strategic look at reward and pay; and encouraging greater movement in and out of, and within, the Civil Service. We have a strong programme of work, which we’ll set out in more detail in the coming months.
The Civil Service has already changed so much for the better during my time here. I began my career in 1989 in the South Tower in Marsham Street, as an economic assistant in the Department of Transport. (I shared one of the first desktop computers with my Grade 7.) It was normal then to address anyone in the Senior Civil Service as 'Mr' or 'Mrs'. I spent two years on the 18th and 19th floors of the old DfT/DoE building. We had great views, but much of our time was spent walking up and down the long, rather bleak, corridor that ran through the middle of the block. Jobs were allocated almost entirely by a mysterious process of managed moves – you either got lucky, or you didn’t. As a young woman, I was always significantly outnumbered by men in meetings, and leadership was rarely mentioned as a concept, let alone diversity.
So, I’m always pleased to reflect on the improvements that individual departments and cross-departmental working – like the People Board – have made.
The challenge for the years ahead is to keep building on the strengths of the Civil Service – including our core values and the fantastic, varied and fascinating work we do. I'm looking forward to playing my part in this through the People Board, in addition to my roles as Permanent Secretary of DCLG and Civil Service Gender Champion.
You can follow Melanie Dawes on Twitter: @dawes_melanie