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Civil Service

Shaping the future of the Civil Service

Head shot of Rupert McNeil
Rupert McNeil, Civil Service Chief People Officer

The last year as Civil Service Chief People Officer has been among the most professionally fulfilling of my life, working in the incredible national asset that is the Civil Service.

As human resources leader across the organisation, I see the HR function as ensuring that we have the right people with the right capabilities to serve the nations of the UK. Within this, my main responsibility is delivering the Civil Service Workforce Plan.

The ‘glue’ of government

Virtually every civil servant belongs to at least one profession - policy, science, economics, operational delivery, comms or investigation, to name only a few. Professions are characterised by required skills at different levels of capability, and by dedicated career paths.

Functions are built around sets of professional expertise (including in finance, commercial, property and HR). They’ve been called the ‘glue’ binding government together, providing expertise where and when it’s needed.

The Civil Service’s future will be shaped by the interaction of three principal dimensions: the national, the departmental and the functional (and professional), giving the system great resilience.

This way of seeing the organisation has been invaluable in pinpointing the skills required following the EU referendum and where we need to concentrate efforts at building capability in crucial areas, like commercial, digital and project management.

More representative

I can bring the aims of the Workforce Plan to life by focusing on the 1,200 people who, from almost 45,000 applicants, will join the Civil Service Fast Stream in 2017. These candidates are more representative of the UK population than any previous group. Initial analysis suggests the number of candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds has risen 50% year-on-year compared to 2015, while the number of BAME candidates has risen by 3%, and the number of women by 12%.

'Effective Leaders' logoThe four-year Fast Stream programme will put the successful applicants on track to join the 4,000-strong senior civil servants who will be the Civil Service leaders of the future. It’s my job to ensure they’re the best and most effective leaders they can be.

They will be joining an organisation of extraordinary variety, embracing policy specialists, immigration officers, vets, scientists, lawyers, frontline Jobcentre staff, coastguard rescue teams and many more.

It is also a complex, multilayered organisation, united by a common purpose and set of values - to serve the government of the day with integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity. And it’s adding new dimensions, in the devolved administrations and the expanding functions and professions.

The ‘other’ professions

The emergence of 'meta-professions' covering a range of roles gives a clue to the Civil Service of the future. For me, one of the most important is the vital set of operational delivery profession roles where dedicated civil servants serve in citizen-facing carer/case-worker roles demanding high levels of integrity, professional expertise and interpersonal skill.

They include work-coaches helping people using Jobcentres; prison and probation officers; Border Force members, and others. I believe strongly that these ‘other’ professions deserve full recognition alongside the established ones. And the new digital wave of automation can make those caring professionals even more effective; freeing up more space for professional growth and time to provide support.

I want to create opportunities for future leaders to emerge from among these frontline colleagues, who will often have entered through apprenticeship schemes.

We must plot well-defined career paths for every civil servant - so they understand the experience, knowledge and skills necessary to progress - and give them the same opportunities.

Tomorrow’s Civil Service will also allow more movement between the private and public sectors, so we benefit not only from a greater diversity of backgrounds and points of view, but of practical experiences, and not just among specialists. This is one reason we’re committed to advertising all Civil Service roles externally by default by 2020.

Ambitious goal

The professions are critical in developing leaders, but we need a common approach to developing the most senior. The Leadership Academy, launching this year, provides this. It will have three strands: organisational; technical (appreciation of how professions can interact effectively); and resilience (managing a complex environment of systems and stakeholders).

'A great place to work' logoBut for the 1,200 to be great leaders they have to experience a culture of great leadership and inclusion. We've set ourselves an ambitious cultural goal: to be the most inclusive employer in the UK by 2020.

This is about more than diversity. It’s about equality of opportunity, no barriers to progression for the best, whoever they are, and an environment where people feel free to be themselves.

The 1,200 joining the Fast Stream this autumn will both help create and be beneficiaries of this culture. They and their successors are the future of the Civil Service.

Through our Workforce Plan, I believe we can set them up to succeed.

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  1. Comment by R Stephenson posted on

    Rupert McNeil says that virtually every civil servant is a professional. In my thirty plus years in the civil service I have never met one. Where are they all? In Whitehall no doubt. No wonder senior civil servants seem to have an unrealistic view of the civil service. We are not all highly motivated professionals. Most of us are just workers in a clerical factory.

  2. Comment by Adrienne Stewart posted on

    Who is the Leadership Academy aimed at and how do I find out more about it?

  3. Comment by William posted on

    When will management become a profession within the civil service.

  4. Comment by Colin posted on

    If all jobs are to be advertised externally, is there not a chance that companies will put forward their placemen to fill vacancies to exploit the extent of current and proposed government policies for their own ends and so undermine the impartiality of the Civil Service?

  5. Comment by Elliott posted on

    Two points to raise on this.

    1. The idea of advertising all roles externally by 2020 is a terrible idea, I understand the need for external applicants and recruits but to do so on a large scale such as this is anti-productive. What other companies would do this and not reward existing employees with opportunities first of all, as a genuine reward for sacrafices made in service plied already?

    2. Has the idea of an easier system of side movement been looked at? It is very much a need for civil servants who have gained and achieved their competencies for a grade to be able to move around different roles to achieve new skills naturally, instead of the long drawn out process currently, where your grade is undermined. The system should simply include a confirmation of satisfactory work from your line manager and also a simple interview based on qualifications and past work.

    • Replies to Elliott>

      Comment by Nicola posted on

      I could not agree more. I can see that recruiting outside the Civil Service for specialist and technical roles might be necessary but to open all vacancies at all grades to open competition is counter-productive.

      I also agree that free movement at your grade should be easier, not just in your current organisation but throughout the Civil Service. I started in the Civil Service over 20 years ago and have worked in 4 organisations. When I started you could move across on level transfer terms and it encouraged people to change roles and develop rather than stagnate.

  6. Comment by Chloe posted on

    As a 1st year Fast Streamer this is rather worrying. What was the point of joining the scheme if it could actually be more beneficial to gain experience (and more financial stimulus) in the private sector and then apply to the Civil Service after 2020 when jobs are advertised widely. The whole reason I joined the Fast Stream was as a way to have access to the more senior roles.

  7. Comment by Craig posted on

    Seems like a brave new world where fast streamers are to become the Civil Service. Is that figure of 1,200 a year? Seems like a lot of senior civil servants at a time when those further down the chain are being removed.
    Additionally, if all jobs are to be advertised externally by 2020, what does that mean for personnel on loan to another government department, or who may be placed in the redeployment pool?
    Lastly, whilst talking about opportunities for all this blog does appear heavily geared towards the fast streamer, which is a pity for those who aren't fast streamers but do have ambitions.

  8. Comment by Alan Carter posted on

    I can see merit in advertising all civil service roles externally by default in future, but this will only attract the best candidates if we have a competitive pay offer. For specialist roles involving relatively scarce and in demand technical skills, is there any intention of reforming salary scales for G7 and G6s as being tied into current maximums means we often see relatively few good applicants from external trawls for specialist roles as we cannot approach external pay levels. Where we do have some flexibility and pay more to recruit specialist outsiders, this creates an unfairness for those who have ended up in similar roles via the internal civil service route. You then end up with two pay tiers for the same job depending on whether you were recently recruited externally on higher pay or not. Interested in your views on how you intend squaring this circle?

  9. Comment by Amelia Walker posted on

    You mention 'meta-professions' but don't really explain what you mean. This sounds like it might be similar to what I have heard talked about in the private sector, about 'purple people' who can straddle professional boundaries. It's been my experience in the civil service that this kind of multi-skilled professional is not always valued, though often exactly the person who is needed. Can you flesh this out further in future?

  10. Comment by Chris posted on

    'This is one reason we’re committed to advertising all Civil Service roles externally by default by 2020' As an existing Civil Servant this can only serve to prevent movement and end up needlessly trapping people with ambitions. The odds of successfully applying for a vacancy will be significantly diminished and I can only view this as a retrograde and ill conceived action.

  11. Comment by Anthony posted on

    Could I ask why the Faststream does not provide feedback to those who have been unsuccessful & also what proportion of the Fast Streamers are White Males over 50?

  12. Comment by Diane Armstrong posted on

    My understanding of BoF is we are reducing the level of staff so I would be interested to know where 30,000 apprentices are going and how they are going to make up for the corporate memory loss Jon Thompson has no plan for after his appearance in front of the PAC Committee.

  13. Comment by Mike posted on

    Once more something that will not work in an organisation of this size and with the colossal amount of different workstreams. About time the people that dream up these ideas actually spent time with those doing the job to actually find out what actually happens on the shop floor

  14. Comment by Nicola posted on

    Paul, if every Civil Service vacancy is open to anyone then this would make progression for existing Civil Servants more difficult as they will have a greatly increased competition from public sector workers for every vacancy. How do you plan to counter the lack of opportunity for progression and the disillusionment this might bring?

  15. Comment by Ian posted on

    I'm intrigued by the possible contradiction of your stated aim:- "We must plot well-defined career paths for every civil servant - so they understand the experience, knowledge and skills necessary to progress - and give them the same opportunities.", whilst at the same time stating that:- "Tomorrow’s Civil Service will also allow more movement between the private and public sectors, so we benefit not only from a greater diversity of backgrounds and points of view, but of practical experiences, and not just among specialists. This is one reason we’re committed to advertising all Civil Service roles externally by default by 2020."

    How do you propose that we don't allow the second to undermine the first? It seems to be suggesting that the skills, knowledge and experience that we want staff to develop won't necessarily meet the requirements of other roles on any future career path, especially when you don't limit this wider external search to specialist posts (such as some IT roles or those requiring a professional qualification such as lawyers)?

  16. Comment by FD posted on

    It would be nice if it was made easier to move across the Civil Service, particularly on lateral moves. At the moment we have to complete a competency based form which can contain six or more competencies as well as a professional one. It is off-putting to say the least.

  17. Comment by Paul posted on

    Could I ask what the figures are for disabled fast streamers? The figure is missing from your review of the 1200... Seems a bit of an omission for an inclusive organisation.