‘Senior civil servants were my biggest frustration’, says former UK civil service training chief

By on 08/09/2015 | Updated on 25/09/2020

Departmental senior leaders showed an alarming lack of interest and commitment towards staff training and development, the civil servant who introduced a centralised training system to the UK government has said.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Global Government Forum, Jerry Arnott, who retired from the civil service last autumn, said that the “biggest frustration I had during my time was around the senior civil service community not accepting the importance of learning and capability.”

In his role as chief executive of Civil Service Learning (CSL), Arnott said, he’d tried to influence permanent secretaries and senior leaders across the civil service to invest more in training their staff in specialist and leadership skills – key capabilities gaps identified under the civil service reform agenda. But, he told GGF, “not all, but certainly some of our leaders were just paying lip service to this agenda, and didn’t really accept the importance of investing in staff learning and development unless it was business critical.”

Founded in 2012, CSL buys generic skills training for the whole civil service, replacing a system under which individual departments bought their own training from a range of different suppliers. The government estimates that the reform saves around £100m a year through economies of scale, eliminating duplication, and a shift to digital training.

See also: Our full interview with Jerry Arnott

Our full interview with Kevin White, Former Director-General Of HR, UK Home Office

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About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.


  1. Bill says:

    That might be because CSL was incredibly flawed (at least in the beginning). Their high jury rejected most specialist requests for training and instead directed people to CSL online courses that were, in my case, hopefully inadequate.

    They simply looked at keywords and said “oh we’ve also got a course with that word in it” – often bearing nothing in common with the course recommended.

    Instead of helping with training, they simply got in the way, slowed down access to training and in our case, put staff off applying for courses – or was that the whole point (to save money?)

  2. Fred says:

    It’s great all these retired and moved-on senior civil servants raising issues after they’ve left – but how about doing it while still IN position! The fact all this is done when they have left says a lot about them, the lack of openness and decision making in the Civil Service, and the sycophantic and subservient nature of the whole set up.

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