2020 is the Civil Service Year of Inclusion. This is an opportunity for us to celebrate our achievements to date and to think about how we want to continue to make the Civil Service a great place to work. Having a sense of belonging, being able to be your authentic self and feeling you have a voice are all vital for inclusion.
Over the course of the year, we are running a series of blog posts in which civil servants explain what inclusion means to them. The first post is from the Environment Agency's Mark Funnell.
My name is Mark and this is what inclusion means to me.
Hear the word inclusion, and what comes to mind? Race and ethnicity? Faith? Age? Disability? Gender? Sex or sexuality? Perhaps all of these things. But what about location?
According to the Institute for Government, there are now 83,530 civil servants based in London – an increase of 5,000 since 2017. Policy departments like those for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, International Trade, and the Treasury have virtually no staff outside London. The vast majority of the most senior jobs remain in London.
The welcome new Government Estate Strategy aims to change that, promising “a major, long-term programme which will move many organisations and thousands of jobs, including a full range of professions and senior grades, over the next 12 years”.
For now, the gravitational pull to London continues to be powerful. Of course, this is partly because ministers are there most of the time, and because Parliament is too,. There’s been much talk of the 'Westminster bubble' in recent years – a bubble that the government needs to do more to burst.
How does this feel for civil servants based outside London?
I live in Bristol. On average I’m in London two days a week. Almost all of my team are based outside London, in some 20 different locations around England. The words I most often hear them use about this subject are ‘London-centricity’ and ‘second-class citizens’.
Is this reasonable? I know for certain that no-one in London sees them as less important, or that different parts of the country are somehow inferior. But the nature of the work in Whitehall – fast-paced, responding rapidly to ministers’ agendas and political events – can magnetise focus and energy.
Also, if you’re not used to working in a dispersed team, you probably haven’t thought so much about things like conference-call etiquette, and how to make sure people on the end of a phone line feel just as important and engaged as people physically in the room.
Recently, we’ve been using apps that help to address this. It’s made a massive difference. Just being able to see people, even if they’re pretty small on a screen, fosters inclusion. It’s a leveller. For deaf colleagues (I work regularly with two), using one such app means they can zoom in on others’ mouths, helping with lip reading.
Another clever idea, if you are chairing a conference call, is to dial in from a room by yourself. That way, you cannot possibly favour the input of people in front of you. In the Environment Agency, an organisation I worked for over many years, whose people are widely dispersed, people had practically written the book on good etiquette. For example, they’d routinely go to people on the phone first, individually and by name, for views. That has the twin benefit of keeping those colleagues awake, alert and ready to contribute!
As we are all going to need to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint over the next 10 years, and as tens of thousands more civil servants move out of London, these kinds of cultural and technological shifts will be vital. But we should already be embracing them – because they are fundamental to building a more inclusive Civil Service and public sector.