UK government to launch attraction strategy for recruitment, a reform idea from Romania, and more

By on 04/06/2024 | Updated on 04/06/2024
Photo of Cat Little speaking.
Photo courtesy of HM Treasury

Welcome to the latest edition of our Management and Workforce Monitor newsletter.

This month, we cover insights on attracting and retaining civil service talent and a proposal for a new ‘National School for Government’ in the UK, as well as featuring interviews with senior government finance leaders.

Richard Johnstone
Executive editor
Global Government Forum

In this edition:

UK government to launch attraction strategy for recruitment

Image: Institute for Government

The UK government is to launch an “attraction strategy” to help it recruit the skills it needs, the new chief operating officer of the UK civil service has said.

Getting the right people in: Speaking at an Institute for Government event on how the civil service can recruit and retain top talent, Cat Little, the new permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office and civil service chief operating officer, said good recruitment is vital to the work of government.

Diverse challenges need diverse expertise: “We do really diverse things in the civil service, so it matters that we have diverse skills, diverse experience, and diverse expertise,” she said.

Future skills: Little also flagged “a real need” to recruit more specialist skills in government. “We know that we’ve got gaps in quite a lot of our tech and specialist corporate skills, [and] we don’t just want to be playing catch up. We want to be thinking about skills that we need in the future as well. And we also know that we deliver better outcomes for the public when we’ve got diversity of thought [and] diversity of backgrounds.”

The plan: Among the ways that government is looking to do this is through the launch of what Little called an “attraction strategy” to set out how to get the best talent into government.

Five alive: Little said the plan would have five pillars, with a focus on “boosting people’s understanding of the civil service” so that potential applicants understand the work of government when they see a job advert. This will mean clearly explaining what government does, avoiding jargon and “making sure that our job adverts and civil service jobs are understandable”, she said.

Demystifying government for newcomers: The need to make it easier for people to understand how government works when they join the civil service was also highlighted by Gareth Davies, permanent secretary of the Department for Business and Trade, who stressed the need to make the rules of the road of policymaking clearer for those joining government.

Getting onboard: Davies said government needs to focus on “standardisation” of policymaking processes to make it easier for those who are moving into government from other sectors.

Making a science out of an art: For too long, policymaking has been seen as an art form that can’t be written down that you have to pick up by osmosis, he said.

“I think that’s wrong. I think that’s blocked people moving in from the private sector.” A standardised approach would help people onboard quickly, he added.

Making it happen: Where this formalisation has been achieved in cross-government professions, such as the work led by Little in her previous position as head of the government finance function, it has been excellent, he said – and the same applies in work in his department around trade.

A trade place: He said a similar approach was taken in the creation of the trade profession in government. At the time of the Brexit referendum, government had no trade capacity as this was a function of the European Union. When the government aimed to build this capacity, it needed to appeal to the right people. “[Trade is] a profession that exists in legal services firms globally, so [we were] able to bring people in, because people understood what a trade negotiator was,” he said. They avoided jargon around civil service grades that would not be clear to everyone. “The language of a HEO [higher executive officer] policy advisor – what on earth is that to someone who’s not steeped in the government system?”

What it’s like joining: The session also heard from Sarah Munby, now permanent secretary of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, but who rejoined the civil service in 2019 as director general, business sectors in the then-Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy after a spell in Whitehall early in her career.

What she was warned about: Munby said before she joined BEIS she was warned government would be very bureaucratic, but she had not found this during the myriad crises – from Brexit to COVID to Ukraine – that government has faced since she joined.

What actually happened: “If I was going to criticise the pace of government, I’d actually talk about how sometimes we act too quickly,” she said. “Maybe it’s an artefact in part of what the last few years have looked like. But a lot of the time it’s felt like operating at warp speed. And the scale of impact that we’ve been able to have is really incredible. And ultimately, I think a huge amount of the value proposition [in the civil service] is that you work with some truly fantastic colleagues on the biggest and most important issues that the country faces.”

The main difference in government: What people should be talking about when they try to inform people about what it is like to work in government, she said, is the centrality of the relationship with ministers.

What wasn’t talked about enough: “What I think wasn’t talked about enough, at least to me, is that ultimately we are here to serve ministers,” she said. People coming into government at higher levels are often coming from “having a level of personal executive authority and being part of a kind of delegated decision-making framework” in a public limited company, but the structure of government is “fundamentally different”.

Mindset shift: “I think that mindset shift, that new way of operating is one of the transitions that we have to really help people with as they move into the civil service,” Munby added.

Watch in full: The entire session is available in full on the Institute for Government website. And sign up here for upcoming Global Government Forum webinars on how to equip public servants to succeed and how to boost skills across the public service to drive reform.

A civil service management reform idea from Romania

Ahead of this week’s Global Government Finance Summit in Dublin (5-6 June), we have been publishing short ‘Five minutes with’ interviews with attendees.

One civil service reform: One interview was with Mihai Cuza, public manager, ECOFIN and Financial Assistance General Directorate in Romania’s Ministry of Finance, who spoke about his idea for a civil service reform.

Ending the hierarchy: Cuza said that he would like to assist in “the transition from a hierarchical, mechanistic, automatist bureaucracy to a public service closer to what is called an organic hierarchy, or network culture”.

Change comes naturally: “I don’t think this could be done in a revolutionary way, but naturally, along with changes in society,” he added.

Picking people: Cuza also said if he could personally introduce a reform in the public service, it would be related to personnel selection. The current model of hiring “defeats on so many levels the purpose of public servants”, so reform will come “with the disappearance of the blockages in the system”, he added.

Read all the tips here: Advancing homegrown AI: Five minutes with Mihai Cuza from Romania’s Ministry of Finance

Also attending the Finance Summit… is Noureddine Bensouda, general treasurer of the Kingdom of Morocco.

Bensouda’s one lesson: Asked for a lesson from abroad that has helped him and his colleagues, he highlighted the value of teamwork. This is what makes an organisation succeed, he said. “As we often say, alone we go fast but together we go further. In addition, through good teamwork we end up developing collective intelligence that increases and amplifies efficiency and productivity, and challenges the limits of what’s possible.”

A positive attitude to HR: Bensouda also highlighted the need for a positive attitude towards human resources, focusing on developing civil servants’ “abilities and capacities to support them and make them evolve and improve permanently”.

‘Choose your words and manage your time wisely’: Read the five minutes with Noureddine Bensouda in full here.

Find out more: The Global Government Finance Summit is a unique annual event that brings together senior civil servants from finance ministries around the world. Delegates discuss their domestic financial and regulatory challenges, highlighting the shared issues facing governments and exploring potential solutions.

UK MPs call for a ‘new school for government’ 

A photo of a street sign of Whitehall, where many government offices are based.
Photo by Steph Gray via Flickr/CC

A new report calls for “urgent reform of Whitehall culture…to improve strategic decision-making and make the UK fit for the future”. 

Timing: As the UK prepares for a general election on July 4, the Liaison Committee says a “profound rethink” is required to “break the cycle of siloed, short-term thinking that has come to dominate successive governments’ ways of working”. The Liaison Committee, referred to by some as ‘the super committee’ is made up of MPs who chair Commons select committees.   

Back to school: One key recommendation in the report is for the government to provide a binding commitment to a physical campus for a new ‘National School for Government and Public Services’. This would aim to develop “a strong, shared culture of strategic thinking across government”. The report, which comes out of the Scrutiny of Strategic Thinking in Government inquiry, says that a programme of learning and professional development for MPs should also be included. 

Not a new idea: The previous National School for Government was closed in 2012 as part of a reform of public bodies. In June 2021 the Declaration on Government Reform committed to a new physical campus for civil servant training but this has not yet materialised.  

John Glen, the minister for the Cabinet Office, told the Liaison Committee that establishing a new physical school of government would be a question of prioritisation at the next spending review, and prime minister Rishi Sunak described the idea as ”eminently sensible”. 

Committee for the Future: The report further recommends that a committee on national strategic priorities should be established in the next Parliament, specifically including the interests of young people.  

The inquiry heard evidence that “young people are becoming detached from democracy and more open to authoritarianism than previous generations”. 

The Committee for the Future would hold ministers and officials to account for the government’s national strategy and changing culture across Whitehall. 

A hot topic: Global Government Forum will be hosting a webinar on ‘Safeguarding future generations: how government can listen to the voice of the future’ on 17 October. Register now.

Public trust: The liaison committee chair, Sir Bernard Jenkin MP, said that getting Parliament and government to be more strategic than they have been over the past 20 or 30 years is vital to restoring public confidence, particularly among younger generations.

“The next government should seize this offer from Parliament to support and scrutinise strategic thinking for the future,” he commented.

Making it work: Trust is key to government delivery in a host of areas, from welfare payments to net zero, from humanitarian aid to artificial intelligence, and from digital ID to taxation. Global Government Forum will be hosting webinars on all these topics in the months ahead – click on the links to find out more.

Whistleblowing in Whitehall: A separate report from the Public Accounts Committee found that the civil service must do more to promote a culture that supports whistleblowing. It calls for “a cultural change to raise awareness and provide assurance on whistleblowing processes and create a ‘speak up’ environment”. 

ICYMI: The story of the UK Digital Academy

Global Government Forum travelled to Leeds for a reunion of the UK government’s Digital Academy

For the latest episode of the Government Transformed podcast, members of the GGF team journeyed from London to Leeds to join a reunion of one of the UK government’s most innovative digital projects – the Digital Academy. 

What was it? The academy was initially set up in the Department for Work and Pensions, before transferring to the Government Digital Service. Its aim was to give people the skills to build public services that would close the gap between government bureaucracies and the kinds of services citizens had grown accustomed to in an online world. It officially closed in 2022. 

Meet you at the reunion: To mark 10 years since the academy was created, those who ran the academy – and those who went through it – met up to reminisce and think about what it means for digital transformation in government now.

Memories: Participants looked back over the academy’s lifespan, tracing its beginnings to the peak of its accomplishments, and the combination of factors that led to its eventual end. They discussed the impact the academy had, both on the way government viewed digital service delivery, as well as their own careers. 

Listen now: This podcast offers a timely example of the difference small groups of dynamic individuals can make to government services, given enough time and freedom to solve core problems. It also shows why digital technology leads to transformation only when people combine to form a mission-driven culture.

Getting the skills you need: upcoming GGF training courses

Global Government Forum provides a wide range of live, interactive training courses which build on our ethos of providing high-quality events and information for civil servants from around the world.

Upcoming courses include:

Thanks for reading this month’s Management and Workforce Monitor newsletter. Please provide any feedback to me on email, and see you next month.

About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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