A new report examines the skills that the Civil Service has and those it needs to meet the demands of government in the coming years - and claims that Whitehall urgently needs to commit to collecting more information on skills, and senior leadership should set up a programme of systematic data collection.
A cross-government approach to skills management and deployment is hindered by departmental independence. As a result Civil Service leaders often do not have clear data on the skills that exist in their departments or how they are distributed.
Information is often lacking and different systems of data collection across departments leads to variation in content and quality and makes it very hard to understand and map civil service skills.
Rupert McNeil, Chief People Officer of the UK Government, told the Public Accounts Committee in November 2020 that the Civil Service remained a number of years away from knowing what skills individual civil servants have. Without this knowledge, the civil service cannot redeploy them effectively.
Notwithstanding this lack of clarity, the expensive hiring spree of consultants over the past 12 months has highlighted a lack of critical data and technology skills within Whitehall.
The report does endorse the Government’s current work to develop civil service skills, building on reforms that started in 2013 under Lord Francis Maude and John Manzoni, then Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chief Executive of the Civil Service respectively.
They worked to improve the way the civil service conducted activities that relied on specialist skills – such as delivering projects or managing commercial contracts – by creating government ‘Functions’ to develop and deploy expertise in a consistent fashion across all departments and arm’s length bodies. There are now 14 such Functions with around a quarter of civil servants (120,000) belonging to at least one:
James is the Editor of Government Transformation magazine, and has been covering digital government and public sector reform for 20 years. He also oversees the development of the UK's biggest network of public sector transformation conferences.