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

By on 15/06/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Rupert McNeil is the UK Civil Service's chief people officer

The UK’s central civil service HR function is to introduce a new framework for managing secondments into and out of civil service jobs, its chief people officer Rupert McNeil has told Global Government Forum.

“One thing we are actively looking at, and will put in place later this year, is a rather more industrialised approach to secondments, which have tended to be rather bilateral in their organisation,” he said in an exclusive interview.

Under the current ad hoc arrangements, departments tend to “find a person, find an opportunity and match them – and that creates two problems,” he explained. “The opportunity has got to stay open long enough, and the person has got to be available for long enough. One of the problems with secondments into private sector organisations, as we’ve seen them, is that the civil service secondee may not be around that long. So you need to have a mechanism for making sure the matching is effective.”

Introduced under the agenda to increase the civil service’s “porosity”, improving the flow of people into and out of public service, the new process is likely to target “people in their late 20s, early 30s, who’ve got the first stage of their professional training out of the way and [want to] go off and add to that in a new environment,” he said. “Then they can come back and share that back into the organisation.”

The civil service has developed an effective process for bringing people back into work after parental leave, said McNeil, and he wants secondees’ return to their permanent jobs to be similarly straightforward. “They need to feel confident they can come back to a role, and that the process of re-entry will be secure and comfortable,” he said.

Secondments will also need to be attractive. “There needs to be the right element of competition,” he said. “These should be sought-after places, which means the roles need to be properly constructed and people in both directions want to do it because it will enhance their careers. But I think the zeitgeist is with us: people [outside government] see the interest that they will get from being in the public sector, and civil servants [the benefits generated by] going out and getting that experience outside.”

Developed with the charity Whitehall and Industry Group – which works to build links between civil service and business leaders – the new system will have to deliver on performance targets by the end of 2017. These will include fostering secondments between central departments and non-departmental public bodies: “We’ve made a commitment that we will have 50 senior secondments into and out of arm’s length bodies into the civil service by the end of next year, and I know there’s a lot of demand from the arm’s length bodies for that,” said McNeil.

For more details, see our full interview with Rupert McNeil

For up to date government news and international best practice follow us on Twitter @globegov

See also:

Rupert McNeil, chief people officer for the UK Civil Service: exclusive interview

Jon Thompson, former permanent secretary of the UK Ministry of Defence, and now chief executive of HM Revenue & Customs: Exclusive Interview

Interview: John Manzoni, chief executive, UK Civil Service

Sir Paul Jenkins, former UK Treasury Solicitor: EU Referendum interview

The hat-trick: how to achieve savings, better services and public policy goals

UK government’s shared services programme cost more than it saved, report warns

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

National Audit Office warns over UK civil service cuts

Looking after number one: prioritisation in government

Tom Scholar appointed new permanent secretary of UK Treasury

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.


  1. Gavin says:

    My first reaction to this is, how on earth are you going to entice them back once they’ve had a taste of life in the private sector? Good companies will want to keep good staff and they will do anything to hold on to them if they think they’re worth it. The Civil Service with reduced pensions, job insecurity, constants cuts and demands of more for less on top of a continuing 1% pay freeze isn’t as attractive as it used to be. Are we sure this is the right strategy for the future?

  2. Nigel Vickers says:

    I had a secondment based on the 1:1 arrangement and I found myself a position with the Princes Trust. I was given more responsibility, a leadership role in a smaller organisation and strict targets to work towards independently. On returning to my department my knowledge was used for some reviews of the Third Sector, but I was put back into my grade and there was a distinct misunderstanding about the level and type of work I had experienced. I now apply the skills I picked up to mentor Charity CEOs via Civil Service Learning. So why is everything always focussed on the private sector? Also as I’m a middle-manager why is the focus on senior leaders always?

  3. Karen Booth says:

    Is this not a bit ageist?

    ‘Aimed at people in the late 20s, early 30s. And I naively thought the Civil Service was an Equal Opportunties employer, leading the way against any type of discrimination.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *