Social mobility strategy wins official backing in unique UK policymaking awards

By on 05/12/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Ben Gummer speaking at the Reimagine Challenge awards scheme

A UK awards scheme supporting innovative thinking and cross-departmental working in the UK government has been won by a team focusing on social mobility in the civil service – securing Cabinet Office support for a strategy to help working class people move into top civil service jobs.

Under the Reimagine Challenge, five teams – each comprising officials from several departments, plus staff from event partners KPMG – were tasked with devising new ways to address awkward, cross-cutting policy challenges. The scheme was designed to identify one or more projects that could be taken forward to implementation. And following a set of final presentations on 24 November, civil service chief executive John Manzoni awarded the top prize to a team combining staff from the defence, taxation and business departments alongside two KPMG employees.

The team’s strategy involves improving the civil service recruitment website; appointing civil service ‘ambassadors’ to talk directly to potential recruits; creating a ‘feeder scheme’ offering coaching and support to staff from lower socio-economic groups; and assessing the UK’s most senior officials on social mobility within their teams, with the top performers recruited as ‘Inclusive Leaders’ to pursue the agenda across Whitehall.

The scheme will now be taken forward by the social mobility ‘permanent secretary champion’ Jon Thompson, who leads tax collection agency HMRC, plus the Cabinet Office’s Social Mobility Steering Group and the civil service director of workforce strategy and inclusion.

Speaking at the event, Manzoni encouraged the other four teams to keep developing their ideas. “Actually, all of these we can take through to implementation,” he said, praising the teams’ “emphasis on development and joint working to bring the best minds together.” These teams were tasked with using digital technologies to improve support for small businesses; reinventing care for older people; using ‘big data’ to reduce crime; and raising the employment rate among young people with learning difficulties.

Manzoni’s fellow judge Kru Desai, KPMG’s head of government and infrastructure, also praised the project’s contribution to strengthening partnership working across departmental and sectoral boundaries. “I walk into a room, and there’s such a great sense of achievement, camaraderie, support,” she said. “I think this is the way we should all work together.”

Speaking at the event, Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer linked the project to some of the biggest problems facing Western democracies. The Challenge has been “about releasing the talent, the passion and the intelligence of the people in this room: the teams that have contributed in a way that we need to replicate across Whitehall every day of the week,” he said.

This ambition and commitment is particularly important at the moment, Gummer added, “because we are in very interesting times. They’re not just interesting – they’re challenging; they’re difficult; they are profoundly troubling in many ways.”

Civil servants and politicians must, he argued, rediscover their commitment to true public service. “The people that we serve, by quite a large majority, do not believe that we are serving them,” he said. “They feel that the organisations, the state and the people that run them are there for our own convenience… You can see the result of that at the ballot box in Western democracies across the world.”

Civil servants’ “passion and your vocation to public service” are, the minister said, at the heart of efforts to “rebuild trust between people and government… and create a government and democracy which has the respect of the people that we serve.”

Too often, Gummer warned, public servants’ efforts to deliver for the public are frustrated by systems that “get in their way” or block ideas seem as risky: “But actually we need to take risks… and learn how to get better at generating ideas, finding a sense of entrepreneurialism and adventure in policymaking which is not always there in the way that it should be.”

“My task is to create a system, a manner of government which allows you to express that vocation every day when you turn up to work,” he concluded. “This is going to be slow and patient work, and at its very heart it is going to be about celebrating and living public service”.

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See also:

UK Treasury and Cabinet Office urged to help senior officials stand up to ministers

UK civil service to launch new secondments scheme, says chief people officer

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About Matt Ross

Matt is Global Government Forum's Contributing Editor, providing direction and support on topics, products and audience interests across GGF’s editorial, events and research operations. He has been a journalist and editor since 1995, beginning in motoring and travel journalism – and combining the two in a 30-month, 30-country 4x4 expedition funded by magazine photo-journalism. Between 2002 and 2008 he was Features Editor of Haymarket news magazine Regeneration & Renewal, covering urban regeneration, economic growth and community development; and from 2008 to 2014 he was the Editor of UK magazine and website Civil Service World, then Editorial Director for Public Sector – both at political publishing house Dods. He has also worked as Director of Communications at think tank the Institute for Government.

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