UK to introduce performance-related pay for civil servants, Kenya declares climate change a national security threat: news in brief

By on 16/05/2024 | Updated on 16/05/2024
A picture of UK pounds sterling
UK pounds sterling. Photo: Steve Bulley from Pixabay

Global Government Forum’s weekly news roundup of public service intelligence

In this edition:

UK to introduce performance-related pay for civil servants

The UK government will introduce a performance-related pay regime for senior civil servants this summer, progressing a long-standing aim to better link reward to delivery.

In an announcement last week, Cabinet Office minister John Glen stated that a pilot would test what he called “milestone-based pay”, where certain senior civil service staff would be rewarded for delivery of pre-agreed milestones for projects they manage.

Glen said that the move would help government “recruit the brightest minds, ensure they have the tools and skills to succeed, and take swift action when performance falls below expected standards”.

He added: “The measures I’ve set out today will help to meet today’s productivity challenge head on, building a resilient and high-performing civil service that is fit for the future.”

The UK government has for a long time aimed to implement performance-related pay. Previous ministers have aimed to base pay progression for senior officials on professional groupings and capability, but the new proposal is intended to better match reward to how staff are performing and delivering for the public.

This pilot is focused on reducing churn by encouraging senior civil servants to remain in post for the whole of the project until key milestones are achieved.

It will also support recruitment in priority areas by making reward packages more attractive to potential new hires, without increasing basic salaries.

Read GGF’s latest Management and Workforce Monitor: Senior US official defends telework policy – as Canadian government wants officials in the office three days a week

US releases international strategy to boost cyber and digital security

The United States government has published an international cyberspace and digital strategy that is focused on improving diplomacy in areas such as cybersecurity.

The policy has been created by the US State Department to develop the idea of “digital solidarity”, where countries work together to ensure digital technology is resilient to threats and to tackle cyber-threats.

“The concept of digital solidarity rests on efforts to build digital and cyber capacity so that partners are not only better able to build a defensible and resilient digital ecosystem over the long term, but are also able to respond and recover quickly when incidents happen and to hold criminal and malign actors accountable,” a State Department statement said.

The strategy commits the US government to three guiding principles for the online world: a secure and inclusive cyberspace grounded in international law, including international human rights law; integration of cybersecurity, sustainable development and technological innovation; and developing a comprehensive policy approach that uses tools of diplomacy and international statecraft across the entire digital ecosystem.

The government will now work with international partners to “counter threats to cyberspace and critical infrastructure”, as well as helping to strengthen international partner digital and cyber capacity.

Read GGF’s latest Digital and Data Monitor: Digital transformation baton passes to Canada after GovernmentDX event in Washington DC

Kenya declares climate change a national security threat

The Kenyan government has added climate change to its list of national security threats.

Interior cabinet secretary Kithure Kindiki said climate change will be categorised alongside other national security threats including terrorism, banditry and the manufacture and sale of illicit alcohol and drugs.

The declaration comes after recent floods and mudslides killed more than 250 people and impacted hundreds of thousands.

Speaking last week, Kindiki said that the number of people lost in a month to the floods caused by heavy rains is similar to the number of people killed in terrorist attacks in Kenya in the last 10 years.

“Therefore, we consider climate change and its devastating effects of floods and droughts as a serious national security threat,” he said.

He added that a “whole of government, whole of nation, whole of society approach” is required and highlighted the need to “reclaim our environment and grow enough trees so that out country has ecological stability”.

The current administration, led by president William Ruto, aims to plant at least 15 billion trees by 2032. 

This week, president Ruto directed the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to help the country tackle climate change, saying that it is the biggest threat to the country’s development and prosperity.

Speaking on 15 May, he said: “I ask KDF to lead the way by providing mechanisms, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, of achieving the 15 billion tree-planting programme.”

“As you secure our nation from emerging security threats, climate change is also going to be our biggest threat. This is why we must mobilise the military to provide solutions to such emerging issues,” he added.

Read GGF’s latest Sustainability Monitor: How AI could accelerate net zero, Poland boosts climate education, and more

US and China meet to discuss ‘rules of the road’ on AI risk

Officials from the US and Chinese government met on 14 May in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss what should be done to balance the risks of artificial intelligence (AI) with its positive potential.

In closed-door talks, US envoys expressed concerns over “misuse of AI” by China, according to Adrienne Watson, a National Security Council spokesperson.

Watson said that in addition to these concerns, the US underscored the importance of “ensuring AI systems are safe, secure and trustworthy in order to realise these benefits of AI – and of continuing to build global consensus on that basis”.

On a press call on 10 May, National Security Council officials said that the talk aimed to focus on risk and safety around AI. 

According to the NextGov news website, a senior administration official told reporters that the US saw itself in “a competition to shape the rules of the road” on AI, though added that the meeting gave the federal government an opportunity to “explore some of the rules that can be embraced by all countries”. 

“We do have a long history of engaging with competitors on issues of global safety and security. We certainly don’t see eye to eye with the PRC [People’s Republic of China] on many AI topics and applications, but we believe that communication on critical AI risks can make the world safer,” the senior official said.

They also said that while the scheduled talks were not intended to delve into “any particular deliverables”, they would focus on advanced AI systems, and would involve “an exchange of views on the technical risks of AI and an opportunity to directly communicate respective areas of concern”.

Delegates were also expected to discuss the application of AI in the military and national security. One area of discussion ruled out by officials was the possibility of joint participation in research efforts.

“Our talks with Beijing are not focused on promoting any form of technical collaboration or cooperating on frontier research in any matter,” officials said, stressing that US technology protection policies were “not up for negotiation”.

Read GGF’s latest AI Monitor: Protecting elections from deepfakes, France to use AI to help simplify public services, and more

UK AI Safety Institute launches evaluations platform

The UK government’s AI Safety Institute launched an evaluations platform on 10 May with the aim of “paving the way for safe innovation of AI models”.

The platform, dubbed Inspect, marks the government’s next step to creating a globally recognised open-source software library that can “accelerate the work on AI safety evaluations being carried out across the globe”.

The government added that it expects Inspect’s resources to help countries produce “better safety testing and the development of more secure models”.

Inspect is also intended to enable various testers, including “start-ups, academia and AI developers…[and] international governments”, to assess “specific capabilities of individual models and then produce a score based on their results”.

Inspect is also designed to evaluate models’ “core knowledge, ability to reason, and autonomous capabilities”.

The AI Safety Institute is the world’s first government-backed AI safety hub, and the activation of Inspect marks the first time a state-supported AI safety testing platform has been launched for wider use.

Michelle Donelan, UK secretary of state for science, innovation and technology, said Inspect “puts UK ingenuity at the heart of the global effort to make AI safe, and cements our position as the world leader in this space”.

AI Safety Institute chair, Ian Hogarth, added: “We hope to see the global AI community using Inspect to not only carry out their own model safety tests, but to help adapt and build upon the open source platform so we can produce high-quality evaluations across the board.”

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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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