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Civil Service World News

Government rejects call for DCMS to audit departments’ data-sharing rules

32 minutes 2 seconds ago
News

Digital department also reveals work to “understand and address the issues with legacy IT in government”

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Michael Mandiberg/CC BY-SA 2.0

The government has rejected a call by MPs for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to audit all other ministries' data-sharing rules in an effort to improve how information is shared across government

In the formal response to a Public Accounts Committee report examining the challenges in using data across Whitehall, the government insisted that each department needed to set its own data-sharing rules.

MPs said that DCMS “should review departments’ data-sharing guidance and standard operating processes; and report how well they support the wider use of data” because “government officials’ concerns about protecting data can stand in the way of using it to coordinate services”.

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The committee's September report said officials were right to be concerned about data protection, since preservice public trust was a "precondition for government to use data more effectively”. However, the MPs warned that “departmental cultures can also discourage data sharing as civil servants are not used to working across departmental boundaries”.

The report added: “Front line staff are afraid of making mistakes and do not always have the operational guidance they need to give them confidence and knowledge of when and how to share data appropriately.”

In its rejection of the recommendation, the latest Treasury minute said departments were each “responsible for complying with data protection law and developing the operating processes and guidance that they feel is required”.

But it said the government was “keen to promote more consistent practices” in cross-departmental data sharing.

“To this effect, DCMS is in the process of developing a framework for data processing by government departments as required under the Data Protection Act 2018,” the response said.

“The framework consultation process will review departments’ data sharing and operating processes and provide guidance around how to ensure government and public bodies’ personal data processing complies with the legal framework. The framework is intended to set out the principles and processes that the government must have regard to when processing personal data. It seeks to improve the transparency and clarity of existing government data processing."

DCMS is running a consultation on the framework with other government departments and the Information Commissioner's Office, which it expects to publish this year.

The rejection of the call for greater central oversight of data sharing comes despite the government acknowledging last year that “the lack of a mandate” for organisations to use GOV.UK Verify contributed to the identity service failing to meet its targets.

The government said it accepted all of PAC’s five remaining recommendations, including a call for the Cabinet Office and DCMS to check progress against their plans to improve government’s use of data and review the merits of mandating a consistent approach.

The response said there were “clear benefits to be gained from greater standardisation in government’s approach to data” and that the forthcoming National Data Strategy would give the government “implementation roadmap that translates the vision into impact”.

It also promised to identify and prioritise the top 10 data standards that would benefit government, as recommended by PAC, and to update the committee on its fundings by April.

And it said the Cabinet Office and DCMS would “identify the main ageing IT systems that, if fixed, would allow government to use data better”.

“There is work ongoing to understand and address the issues with legacy IT in government,” the response said. The government will write to the committee by spring with an update.

Tags Digital, Data & AI Operational Delivery Partnership working Policymaking Categories Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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Richard Johnstone

Robert Chote interview: OBR chief reflects on ten years as the nation’s top fiscal watchdog, and how he is still a reporter at heart

1 hour 17 minutes ago
Interview

Since his early days as a journalist, Robert Chote has been holding the government to account for its handling of public finances. Now, towards the end of his 10-year statutory term as chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility, he sits down with Geoffrey Lyons to discuss his career, the OBR’s role, and November’s cancelled budget. Photography by Baldo Sciacca

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Photos: Baldo Sciacca for CSW

So sweeping was the global response to the 2007-08 financial crisis that it popularised a formerly specialist lexicon. “Quantitative easing” saw the injection of liquidity on an unprecedented scale, massive fiscal stimulus packages “primed the pump”, banks were “bailed-out”, “bailed-in”, “stress tested” and “ring-fenced”, and terms like “subprime” and “too big to fail” entered the collective consciousness. 

It remains unlikely, however, that the average Joe or Jane knows what an “independent fiscal council” is, even though these public finance watchdogs have nearly tripled since the crisis. IFCs vary from country to country: some have been around for a while (Belgium’s High Council of Finance was the first, established in 1936), while others (Lithuania, Malta, Peru) are barely five years old. In total there are 39 IFCs, and while they can roughly be divided between those with an advisory role and those – like the UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility – that merely provide independent analysis, all have one thing in common: they don’t set policy.

“We don’t have any levers that we can pull,” says Robert Chote, the OBR’s chair. “Nor can we halt the budget process or require the government to do something that is consistent with hitting their targets, as some of the world’s other fiscal councils can.” Indeed, the OBR’s sole responsibility is to shed light on the public finances. “We are neither a policymaker nor a policy adviser,” Chote says. 

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CSW meets Chote towards the end of his ten-year term as chair in the OBR’s HQ in 102 Petty France, better known for being the Brutalist (and faintly phallic) home of the Ministry of Justice. Hanging on the wall of his 14th floor office is a framed Independent front page from the day after Black Wednesday, bearing the bold-lettered splash: “Pound goes into free fall.” The byline: Robert Chote.   

It was one of many bylines from Chote’s 10-year career as a journalist, which was preceded by a stint as a travel guide writer (he co-authored works like Exploring Nature in the Wilds of Europe and The Alternative Holiday Guide to Exploring Nature in North Africa). After graduating from Cambridge, where he was president of the university’s Social Democrats, he spent the first half of his journalism career at The Independent, where he covered economics and business, and the second at the Financial Times, where he was economics editor. Asked whether it’s true that then-chancellor Gordon Brown tried to persuade the FT’s editor to sack him, Chote says with a grin: “So I’m told!”

“Your job is to report properly and without fear or favour, and some governments, some individuals, are more sensitive about these things than others,” he adds. “Even here [at the OBR], I’m still trying to be a good reporter. I get the facts, make a judgement about what’s important and what’s not, and then communicate it in the most effective way possible.” Journalism was a useful skill to acquire, he adds, and when he’s writing the executive summary of a report he’ll ask himself “how would I write this if it was on the front page of The Independent?” 

“I’m still trying to be a good reporter. I get the facts, make a judgement about what’s important and what’s not, and then communicate it in the most effective way”

Having covered the International Monetary Fund as a journalist, Chote went on to take a job in its Washington D.C. headquarters in the late 90s as speechwriter to the IMF’s number two – and celebrated economist – Stanley Fischer. (Chote recalls Fischer’s office being lined with “obscure language translations” of his popular textbooks.) 

Accompanying him to Washington was his partner Sharon White, then a Treasury official (and now, after a series of high-profile government jobs, chair of John Lewis). The two had both read economics at Cambridge – White a year ahead of Chote – and met shortly after they left via a mutual friend. White landed a job working for the British ambassador, and in 1997 the two were married in the British embassy. 

Three years into his time at the IMF, Chote got a call from Mervyn King, then deputy governor of the Bank of England. King – who was also a non-executive director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies – asked Chote if he’d like to come back to the UK and apply to be the IFS’s director. Having been an admirer of the research institute’s output while he was a journalist, Chote jumped on the opportunity and he and White returned to Britain. He then spent the next eight years as director of the IFS where, according to the New Statesman, he resumed his role as unofficial tormentor of Gordon Brown, who would exclaim “Chote!” after reading the IFS’s damning post-budget analyses. 

Chote on.... working for the IMF

Chote arrived at the IMF in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, so the atmosphere was charged with discussions around how the fund was responding (it ultimately issued a series of bailout packages worth over $40bn) and the lessons that were being learned. 

He says working with Stanley Fischer and Fischer’s successor, Ann Krueger, was “enormously enjoyable” and that it rekindled the professor-student relationship. 

Chote developed a keen interest in Krueger’s pet policy ideas by drafting her speeches. 

As for Fischer: “He’s just a brilliant economist – somebody who has very successfully made the transition from being an academic economist to someone who is very involved in policy.” 

It was Brown’s successor, George Osborne, who announced the OBR’s creation in his first speech as chancellor in May 2010. “I am the first chancellor to remove the temptation to fiddle the figures by giving up control over the economic and fiscal forecast,” he said, promising to “change the way that budgets are made forever”. Chote was appointed chair four months later, taking over from former chief economic adviser to the Treasury Sir Alan Budd, who had served as interim chair.

The rationale for the OBR’s creation was to cure what Chote calls the “disease” of deficit bias – a term economists use to describe a government’s habit of allowing public debt levels to rise. “Democratic governments borrow more on average than they should,” Chote says. “They either spend too much or tax too little, and they often feel emboldened to spend money when the public finances look healthy, even if they’re healthy for temporary reasons.”  

Combined with this short-termism, governments take advantage of the fact that public finances are, to most of us, essentially unintelligible. “They’re unavoidably opaque,” Chote says. “The functions of the state are complicated, and the accounting for them is even more complicated.” 

Chote says that by shining a light on the figures, the OBR eliminates the opacity problem while at the same time discouraging short-termism. “We do this by making it clear what the true situation is and what the consequences of a particular action would be.” 

Three years into his time at the OBR, Chote’s truth-unto-power role in public life would garner attention for another reason. After White became second permanent secretary at the Treasury in 2013, the couple were dubbed “Mr and Mrs Treasury” and their clashing responsibilities became a source of glee for journalists. (“No pillow talk please,” said the Spectator – although Frank Field MP countered by telling The Times: “They have both carved out areas of expertise with a huge sense of old-fashioned decency. I think they have made public service cool again.”)

The OBR has a number of key responsibilities including scrutinising individual tax and welfare measures and publishing comprehensive risk reviews of the financial system. What it’s best known for, however – and what usually makes headlines – are its biannual forecasts that accompany the major fiscal events: the Budget and the Spring or Autumn Statement. These usually happen in March and November, though  Chote says: “You’d think there’d be a greater logic to having one in November and one in June. That way they’d be spaced out more.”

Because the government has been so focused on Brexit, the last few fiscal events have been anything but orderly. This is reflected in the OBR forecasts themselves, which these days are often accompanied by disclaimers (“This forecast has been produced against the backdrop of considerable uncertainty,” last March’s report said). 

Chote says he expects things to return to normal “once we emerge from this period of exceptional circumstances”. “It’s important that we get back to a more orderly process where some weeks ahead of the Budget we’re told what the timetable is and what we need to know.” 

While primary legislation requires that two OBR forecasts be published each year, it’s the chancellor who ultimately determines their publication date since he decides when fiscal events take place. This caused some controversy in November when Sajid Javid cancelled the Budget after the general election was called. 

“It’s not unless we get to the point that we are right at the end of the year and might fall foul of our primary legislation [of publishing two forecasts a year] that we say: ‘Sod you. We’re going to go ahead and do this,’” Chote says. So the OBR decided to do just that. In an exciting plot twist just an hour before the documents were due to be released, however, cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill intervened and blocked their publication.

Some have speculated that this move was taken to balance out the decision made just two-days prior to halt government’s plans to publish an assessment of Labour’s spending plans (the OBR forecast, by contrast, was expected to be damaging for the Tories since it would have shown a negative fiscal outlook). The official line, however, was that the forecast would be in breach of the Cabinet Office’s pre-election guidelines. 

Chote says that what the OBR was set to publish wasn’t technically a forecast and was entirely compliant with pre-election restrictions. That’s because a typical forecast report has three elements to it: first, the OBR takes its last forecast and restates it for basic statistical changes (i.e. bringing it into line with current Office for National Statistics methodology); second, it states what has been learned about the economy and public finances since the last forecast; and third, it explains the effect of the newly-announced policy measures. In September, the ONS incorporated student debt into public finances after it was determined that most student loans wouldn’t be repaid, so the OBR intended to publish only the first of those three elements. 

“I basically said, ‘look, we’ve reached our view [about publishing the forecast], and I’m not going to pull this on the say-so of the Treasury or No.10,’” Chote says. “But at the end of the day, if the cabinet secretary is of the view that it should not go ahead, then we won’t do it.” The OBR ultimately published the forecast on 16 December, just a few days after the election.

Chote spends enough of his energy crunching numbers that when he can finally enjoy some free time he says he “steers clear of economics”. “I’d much rather read history, go to the theatre, and listen to music than add to the day job,” he says before adding that, “like everybody else”, he and White are fans of the hit TV series The Crown

While Chote and White rarely talk shop – “it’s mostly ‘who’s picking the kids up?’ and ‘where’s the milk?’” – the two “know each other’s worlds”. “We understand the people and the idiosyncrasies of the environment – and we can feel each other’s pain, and that’s nice.” The pair have never worked together, apart for one meeting they both attended while George Osborne was chancellor. “I think he invited us largely for the amusement value rather than any substantive reasons,” Chote says with a laugh. 

Author Display Name Geoffrey Lyons Tags Economy, Business & Infrastructure Finance Categories Government and politics Image description Baldo Sciacca Twitter Link

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Beckie Smith

Home Office blasted for procurement record as Serco wins £200m contract

3 hours 18 minutes ago
News

NAO says department ‘faces delivery and coordination challenges’ when it relies on others deliver public services

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Inside Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, which will be run by Serco from May Credit: PA

The Home Office has handed outsourcing giant Serco a £200m contract to manage its Gatwick Immigration Removal Centres, which include the Brook House facility that has been the subject of damning abuse allegations.

The eight-year deal was announced on the day that a National Audit Office report said the department had a record of facing “delivery and coordination challenges” when it relied on other government bodies, law enforcement agencies and private sector contractors to deliver services.

A 2017 investigation by the BBC TV programme Panorama showed detainees being abused by staff at the facility, which was run by G4S, along with the Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre, also at Gatwick.

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The NAO also noted that despite concerns about the operation of the centres, the Home Office found it necessary to extend G4S’s contract to run the facilities for a further two years to allow reviews into issues raised by Panorama to be properly investigated. A 2018 procurement process to find a new operator was cancelled but a new exercise was launched last summer.

G4S still runs Brook House and Tinsley House and will continue to do so until Serco takes over towards the end of May. Serco already runs the Yarl's Wood IRC in Bedfordshire.

The NAO's departmental overview report said the Home Office had admitted “in retrospect” that its current Brook House and Tinsley House contract with G4S “did not provide it with the levers it needs to manage performance”. The watchdog noted that the department had been unable to “impose any significant financial consequences for the abuse of detainees” at Brook House.

It said the Home Office had stated an intention that the new IRC contract would include performance measures covering staff recruitment, induction, training, mentoring and culture.

“It also wants to establish a contractual role for the department to monitor the appropriateness of the use of force against detainees, and care of staff and detainees following an incident,” the NAO said.

Serco said that in addition to managing Brook House and Tinsley House, the new Gatwick IRC contract would deliver pre-departure accommodation services that are currently operated under a separate arrangement.

It said it planned to recruit roughly 170 additional staff, taking numbers up to “approximately 580”, in a move that had been mandated by the Home Office. Current G4S staff will TUPE across to Serco.

Immigration minister Kevin Foster said Serco’s contract – which is scheduled to run until 2028, but can be extended for a further two years – included ambitious plans to improve the two main centres at Gatwick.

“This contract is a major step forward in our programme of immigration detention reform,” he said.

“It will significantly improve the day-to-day lives of detainees and the staff who support them.

“The government’s priorities for immigration detention reform include minimising the use of detention and strengthening decision-making and safeguards for the vulnerable, while continuing to tackle abuse of the immigration system.”

Serco group chief executive Rupert Soames said staff and managers at Gatwick IRC had worked hard to achieve improvements in recent years and the firm looked forward working with them to drive further change.

“The Home Office has made significant investment in the design and resourcing of the new contract, and we are committed to ensuring that there is a healthy, decent environment in the centres for all residents and employees,” he said.

When the Home Office launched the procurement process for the Gatwick IRC contract it gave the value as up to £260m, if the option of a two-year extension was exercised and the contract ran for a full 10 years.

Tags Economy, Business & Infrastructure Finance International Affairs & Security Justice and Public Safety Procurement & Commercial Categories Defence and Security Employment Public order, justice and rights Image description PA Twitter Link

 

 

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Jim.Dunton

Priti Patel 'tried to oust Home Office perm sec' amid row over her treatment of staff

23 hours 52 minutes ago
News

Unions call for an end to briefing against civil servants after Patel's allies hit out at "dysfunctional" department

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Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The home secretary, Priti Patel, has been accused of creating an “atmosphere of fear” inside the Home Office as it was claimed she tried to remove permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam from his job.

Civil service unions said officials in the department were working "flat out" and deserved greater support, amid reports in The Times that cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has been asked to intervene after Patel called for Rutnam’s removal.

The home secretary has meanwhile been accused of taking an angry and aggressive tone in meetings, with several sources telling the paper that she had placed unrealistic demands on her staff. 

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A Home Office source told the paper  Patel was a rude and “extraordinary person to work for”, adding: “No one can see how this is going to be resolved. It is going to blow up sooner or later".

Another said: “Sir Philip and [Patel] have fundamental disagreements about the rule of law. He’s committed and she isn’t. She’s belittled him and caused consternation, and she frequently encourages behaviour outside the rule of law.” The Times said Patel attempted to get Rutnam replaced after he raised concerns about her behaviour.

A Home Office spokesperson said there had been no “formal” complaint lodged against Patel.

Allies of the home secretary took aim at Rutnam and rejected claims of bullying, with one referring to the resignation of Amber Rudd as home secretary, after bad briefing by officials led to her incorrectly telling MPs that her department did not have targets for the number of people it deported. “The Home Office is dysfunctional and the current permanent secretary had presided over a sacking of a home secretary and accidental deportations," they said.

“If this were any other environment, Philip Rutnam would not only be sacked, he’d be denied a pension. The lack of accountability in the civil service is deeply troubling and the prime minister will not accept this in the long term.”

But Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA trade union, said "anonymous briefings against civil servants who cannot answer back are not only unfair to the individual, they corrode public trust in government”.

“The Home Office, by its very nature, has a wide-reaching, demanding policy agenda, and civil servants working in the department are used to rising to these challenges," he said.

“Putting undue pressure and demands on committed public servants that are already overstretched does not make for good government and will do this administration no favours in delivering its policy priorities.

“Ministers have to recognise the consequences of their behaviour. An ‘atmosphere of fear’ is obviously not conducive to a successful workplace.”

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect trade union, said more must be done to ensure civil servants did not face a difficult working environment.

“A culture of bullying in any workplace is toxic and civil servants will rightly expect ministers to lead by example in the way that they treat officials," he said, noting that amendments to the ministerial code made under former prime minister Theresa May had made it clear there would be "zero tolerance of bullying and harassment".

But he said the Cabinet Office had "dragged its feet on developing a clear system for civil servants to raise concerns about ministerial behaviour".

He added: “Civil servants must be able to give impartial advice to ministers without fear or favour. There have been far too many attacks on the integrity of civil servants in recent years, this is a worrying trend that the prime minister must put a stop to," he said.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have not received any formal complaints and we take the welfare of our staff extremely seriously.”

Patel has previously been sharply critical of the civil service, with a source close to her arguing in 2017 that some officials “are paid almost twice as much as the secretary of state to do their job and yet they do not take full responsibility for their actions and screw ups”.

CSW has asked the Cabinet Office for a comment.

Author Display Name Matt Honeycombe-Foster and Beckie Smith Tags HR Categories Government and politics About the author

Matt Honeycombe-Foster is news editor of CSW's sister site PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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Beckie Smith

Deadline for applications to head OBR extended by Treasury

1 day 1 hour ago
News

Applicants given an additional month to apply to head finance watchdog

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Photo: PA

The Treasury has extended the deadline for applications to succeed Robert Chote as chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The finance ministry yesterday announced the deadline extension from 20 February to 19 March in a footnote on the initial announcement calling for applications, which still includes a quote from the now-former chancellor Sajid Javid.

The new head of the public finance watchdog is expected to replace Chote from October, when his second five-year term ends.

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The OBR is responsible for producing the official UK economic and fiscal forecasts, assessing the government’s performance against its fiscal rules and reporting on the sustainability of and risks to the public finances. It publishes an economic and fiscal outlook for the government twice a year, to coincide with both the Budget and spring or autumn statement, although there has not been a Budget since last March due to delays around Brexit and the timing of the December election.

The OBR planned to publish a restated fiscal forecast in December, but this was postponed after cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill “concluded that this would not be consistent with the Cabinet Office’s general election guidance.”

An updated forecast will be published alongside the Budget on 11 March, which will be presented by Rishi Sunak after Javid resigned in last week’s ministerial reshuffle over plans to create a joint team of special advisers between the Treasury and No.10 Downing Street.

CSW has asked the Treasury for further details on why the deadline has been extended.

In the initial announcement of the process to find Chote’s successor, Javid said that the OBR’s independence and expertise was admired “not just in Britain but across the world”. He added: “I look forward to working with Robert Chote to deliver my Budget on 11 March before he finishes his second term as chair”.

The appointment of the next chair will now be made by Sunak and is subject to the consent of the Treasury Select Committee. The appointment is for an initial five-year term, with the possibility of serving a further five years.

Tags Finance HR Leadership & Management Categories Economics and finance Government and politics About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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Richard Johnstone

Ministers accused of ‘abusing power’ on Civil Service Pension Scheme contributions

1 day 1 hour ago
News

Professionals’ union Prospect wades into row over government’s failure to reduce contribution rates following valuations ‘pause’

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Listening mode? Chief secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay

Professionals’ union Prospect has called on the government to lift the pause on public sector pension scheme valuations, which it said was an “abuse of power” that was depriving civil servants of reduced contributions and enhanced benefits.

In a letter to newly-appointed chief secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay, Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said members of the Civil Service Pension Scheme had already lost out on a cut in their contributions of “at least 2%” since April 2019.

His letter follows civil service union PCS’s announcement that it would challenge the valuation pause in the High Court, in conjunction with the Fire Brigades Union. Independent valuations in late 2018 indicated that without the pause a “cost control mechanism” would have triggered automatic changes to members’ benefits and contributions from the current financial year.

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The government paused the valuation process to deal with uncertainty following the Court of Appeal’s ruling against the government in the landmark McCloud case – which related to firefighters and judges but had implications for all public-sector pension schemes.

The ruling which found “transitional protections” introduced in 2015 in connection with the creation of new pension schemes effectively discriminated against younger firefighters, a decision that former chief secretary Liz Truss said could have an impact of £4bn a year on public sector pensions.

An employment tribunal is considering possible remedies for the original litigants in the case after the government's appeal was refused by the Supreme Court, while Truss said last July government would be engaging with employer and member representatives, as well as the devolved administrations, on possible changes for other schemes.

Ministers say the cost control mechanism remains paused as the value of pension schemes to members cannot be assessed before the employment tribunal sets out possible remedies, but Graham said there was no justification for the pause to continue.

“This issue unites all our members across government,” he said. “The government paused the valuations when there was still uncertainty over McCloud case but that uncertainty ended in July 2019 with the Supreme Court ruling. The continued ‘pause’ of the valuations is not justified and may be unlawful.”

In his letter to Barclay, who returned to the Treasury in last week’s reshuffle, Graham said the Civil Service Pension Scheme’s advisory board had been “very clear” in its advice to ministers that it would be inappropriate for scheme members to shoulder the cost of the government’s failed legal action in the McCloud case.

“The scheme advisory board is also deeply concerned that its recommendations to the minister, which should have been implemented by 1 April 2019, remain on hold and that scheme members now find themselves subject to an ongoing detriment,” he said.

Because of the pause to the valuations, the Cabinet Office introduced a temporary rollover of contribution rates for pension scheme members for 2019-20 and unions have been told that ministers now intend to continue the rollover for another year.

Graham said it was imperative for Barclay to end the rollover of contributions, resume the valuation, and introduce the Scheme Advisory Board’s recommendations on the cost cap mechanism.

“We believe the lengthy pause of the valuations is disproportionate, an abuse of power and may be unlawful,” he said, and pointed to the PCS and FBU’s plans to seek a judicial review to test the last point. In addition to the contributions cut for pension-scheme members, the civil service unions said the cost-cap mechanism would have also seen the introduction of improved accrual rates, a progressive contribution structure and improvements to in-service death benefit, had the pause not been enacted.

Truss first announced the government was pausing the scheduled valuation of public-sector pension schemes in January last year, arguing that the Court of Appeal’s decision the previous month made it impossible to conduct the valuations “with any clarity”.

At the time, Truss said that changes to employee benefits, which unions were expecting based on provisional valuations, would only be introduced if the government was successful in challenging the Court of Appeal’s firefighters decision, which had implications for a swathe of public sector pensions.

In an answer to a parliamentary question last week, Treasury minister John Glen said that the government “has committed to addressing the discrimination identified in McCloud in all public service pension schemes, while ensuring all members can keep their accrued benefits”.

He added: “Schemes are currently discussing high-level proposals to achieve this with employer and member representatives, to inform a full public consultation. In addition, Employment Tribunals are considering the remedy for claimants in the various cases. While these processes are underway, the cost control mechanism remains paused as the value of pension schemes to members cannot be assessed with certainty.”

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Jim.Dunton

On the level: What does the government mean by levelling up?

1 day 2 hours ago
Feature

Prime minister Boris Johnson has pledged that his government will lead a ‘levelling up’ of prosperity across the UK. But where does he mean and what would count as success? By Colin Talbot and Carole Talbot

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It’s the new government buzzword, but what does “levelling up” really mean, and how could it be done? The first question is: levelling up of what? The glib answer is usually: rebalancing the economy between soar-away London and the rest of the UK. But what is the unit of analysis?

Most official analyses of the economy and public spending take a regional approach. This uses the countries of the UK – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – and then sub-divides England into nine regions (north east, north west, Yorkshire and the Humber, east Midlands, West Midlands, east of England, greater London, south east, south west).

But what are often referred to as the “left behind” areas do not correspond to these regional divisions of the UK. Within greater London there are areas of economic and social deprivation which cannot be captured even at London borough level. Similarly the socio-economic health of parts of Wales are highly diverse, as a recent analysis of Welsh towns by Cambridge academics shows.

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Devolution has also complicated the picture because Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have local responsibility for many of the levers of government with which “levelling up” might be achieved within their boundaries. But UK-wide policy still matters for them too – they can’t easily “level up” with Greater London by themselves.

Government policy has shifted its focus several times in recent decades. Under New Labour the emphasis was very much on the English regions – with their regional development agencies and funds, and their integrated government offices for the regions.

Indeed, that Labour tried to go even further with an attempt to introduce a new regional tier of government to facilitate socio-economic development. But their first referendum to set one up, in the north east, failed badly in 2004 and the policy was abandoned. Incidentally, one of the main organisers of the “no” campaign was a certain Dominic Cummings.

The coalition government from 2010 and the Conservative governments since 2015 shifted the focus away from the traditional regions to smaller “city-regions” – Manchester being the prime example – and the “mega-region” of the so-called “Northern Powerhouse”.

But at the same time these governments were slashing local government budgets, regional development funds and many other public services and benefits. We estimated in 2011 that almost £1bn was being taken out of the Greater Manchester area through austerity, for example.

So where is the focus of the new government policy going to be – English regions? City-regions like Manchester? Mega-regions like the Northern Powerhouse? Or even towns?

Another question is whether “levelling up” is really about areas at all. In a recent post on the ConservativeHome website, Conservative MP Neil O’Brien suggested a number of individual-level metrics like employment, income and wellbeing to determine whether government is evening out inequalities. In other words, levelling up should not be just about geographical areas but about people.

A focus on individual-level inequality instead of, or as well as, a spatial emphasis would produce very different sorts of questions and policies, though most discussion remains centred on place, not people.

A further big question is how might “levelling up” be achieved? What tools can government deploy? The first tool government has is money, and that is where a lot of attention tends to focus.

Spatial inequalities in public spending clearly exist and have done for decades. In 2017-18, according to government’s latest Public Expenditure Statistical Analysis, England had the lowest figure at only £9,080 per head – while Wales has £10,397, Scotland £10,881 and Northern Ireland topped the table with £11,190 per head.

Within England, public spending per person varies across regions. London gets the most money at both local and general government levels – more than £1,000 per head above the cross-England average.

Perhaps surprisingly, both the north-west and north-east are also above average, while the other six regions all receive below average funding. So levelling up without any “levelling down” for London, the north west and north east, would actually imply substantial extra spending per head in much of the country.

We estimate that – within England – to level up to London levels of spending per citizen would need a 6% rise in identifiable public spending: an extra £72bn at 2017-18 rates.

There may be good reason why per capita spend in the east of England is 24% less than in London, but those advocating “levelling up” need to explain what those reasons are, and why the combined north seems to do relatively well.

One final point about money: all the above is about general public expenditure on services and benefits. There is lots of talk about extra capital investment in infrastructure and research and development, but the short-term economic impact of such spending is slight compared to the much, much bigger numbers involved in austerity in public spending – which has not ended.

Of course, government has other tools with which to level the playing field. There may be opportunities, for example, to skew the regulatory environment towards “levelling up” as part of leaving the EU, but it is not very clear how.

There is also talk about changing the organisational structure of government – moving more functions to the “left behind” areas. But central government is less than 10% of the public sector workforce, most of whom are already local. So even moving one in 10 central government workers would barely make a dent in the distribution of public sector jobs. And most of what could be done has already happened in previous decades anyway.

“There is lots of talk about extra capital investment in infrastructure and research and development, but the short-term economic impact is slight”

Finally, government could do far more to use its powers over information to better understand, and shape, policies. For example, as post-Brexit re-regulation gets under way, regulatory impact assessments could be expanded to examine in much more detail the impact on spatial and individual inequalities.

Levelling up also needs changes from non-government actors. If businesses – UK or foreign investors – choose to locate in London or the south it becomes that much more difficult to level up the rest of the country, so policymakers also need to consider how they can influence these choices.

Levelling up is a key commitment for the new government but the strategy faces serious challenges, not least on where the bulk of public spending goes. Levelling that up would be a huge task.

So for now there seem to be more questions than answers around the policy. And there is a clear danger that raising expectations by simplistic talk about levelling up will be taken at face value. And when it proves impossible to actually level up things like public spending, possibly for good reasons, the policy will rapidly be seen as a failure.

At the very least, as MP Neil O’Brien says, the government needs to be much clearer about what “levelling up” actually means and on what metrics it will be judged.

Author Display Name Colin Talbot and Carole Talbot About the author

Prof Colin Talbot and Dr Carole Talbot are board members of the Radix think tank, and research associates at the University of Cambridge

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Richard Johnstone

Brexit: Is the relationship between UK and devolved governments irreparably damaged?

2 days ago
Opinion

The UK government has kept the devolved administrations at arm’s length during the Brexit process. That makes for fraught relationships

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Testing grounds: seats of the devolved administrations in (L-R) Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. Photos: PA

Last month, parliament passed the Withdrawal Agreement Act, despite the fact that the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament all refused to give the bill consent. The situation was unprecedented; never have all three devolved legislatures refused consent to the same piece of legislation.

The Sewel Convention states that the UK parliament will “not normally” legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the devolved legislatures. However, the convention is just that – a convention with no legal force. Parliamentary sovereignty means that parliament can proceed with legislation regardless – and it did so to enable the UK to leave the EU on 31 January.

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Ministers and officials must now find a way to repair the breakdown in relationships and trust that has resulted in the current impasse.

Until 2016, the Sewel Convention operated with remarkably little controversy – of the 350 times legislative consent had been sought, it had been denied partly or in full on only nine occasions (seven of which cases were in Wales). This is because disagreements are usually resolved well before it gets to a vote, with UK officials typically engaging with the devolved administrations before legislation is even drafted to iron out potential difficulties at an early stage. If necessary, the threat of withholding consent has allowed the devolved administrations to extract additional concessions.

But this approach requires trust, compromise and good and open communication, all of which have been in increasingly short supply since the 2016 EU referendum. The devolved administrations have accused the UK government of taking major Brexit decisions on a unilateral basis and failing to take into account the majority remain vote in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Relations between Westminster and Holyrood reached a new low when the UK government proceeded with the EU Withdrawal Act 2018, despite the Scottish Parliament refusing consent. Since then, the Scottish government has been on “Sewel strike”, refusing to consent to any Brexit-related bills other than in exceptional circumstances – claiming the UK government’s decision had “effectively suspended” the convention.

The devolved administrations are now testing the limits of the Sewel Convention by using the consent process to register disagreement with the UK government’s overall Brexit strategy, rather than just its implications for devolution. The UK government has responded by arguing that international negotiations and agreements are matters reserved exclusively for the UK parliament.

Either way, passing major constitutional legislation despite the expressed objections of three of four constituent parts of the UK will only put further strain on the union.

Increasingly fraught relationships at the political level have had implications for intergovernmental working at official level. Sources inside government reported that UK ministers have been increasingly cautious about allowing their departments to share information about Brexit with their devolved counterparts for fear it could be used for political purposes by ministers in Scotland and Wales. This approach has drawn strong criticism from the Scottish and Welsh governments, with both arguing that it had hampered their own ability to prepare effectively for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit in the run up to the October Article 50 deadline.

The UK government may well be tempted to continue its approach of keeping the devolved administrations at arm’s length throughout the second phase of the Brexit talks. But any trade deal will have wide-ranging implications for devolved areas like health and food standards, which the devolved administrations will also be responsible for implementing. The UK parliament will also have to pass legislation on post-Brexit frameworks in areas like agriculture and fisheries, as well as on any future trade deal; all this will require the consent of the devolved legislatures. A failure to involve the devolved administrations and respond to their concerns will inevitably make it harder for the UK and devolved governments to cooperate effectively on implementation.

In the longer term, serious work must be undertaken to repair the relationships between the four parts of the UK. There is an underlying anxiety in the devolved nations that the devolution settlement remains vulnerable to a majority in Westminster, and this anxiety has been heightened by the fallout over the Withdrawal Agreement Act. Brexit has clearly demonstrated that the Sewel Convention is broken. Work to fix it should begin immediately.

Author Display Name Jess Sargeant About the author

Jess Sargeant is a researcher at the Institute for Government

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Richard Johnstone

Industrial strategy 'needs more focus, financing and policy coordination'

2 days ago
News

Policies "not yet operating with the consistency and coordination, nor with the scale" needed to meet industrial strategy goals

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Clean growth is one of the Industrial Strategy grand challenges. Photo: Adobe Stock

Many of the initiatives set out in the government’s flagship 2017 industrial strategy will have no impact on the UK’s economy, its independent advisers have said.

And there is “little evidence, so far, of the industrial strategy having led to significantly improved policy co-ordination across government”, the Industrial Strategy Council said.

In a highly critical report today, the independent body of advisers set up to advise on the policy said a “refresh and reprioritisation” was needed to ensure the plan could achieve its goals.

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The industrial strategy was launched with the publication of a white paper in November 2017, which set out policy priorities to grow the UK economy by boosting investment in specific industries. It aimed to boost innovation and regional growth by ensuring industrial investment was distributed around the UK.

So far around £45bn in funding has been assigned to industrial strategy initiatives, both from the government and from businesses aligned with its aims. It aims to address four so-called “grand challenges” for the UK: artificial intelligence and data, ageing society, clean growth and the future of mobility.

However, the council noted that most of this money has gone towards a small number of projects, including research and transport, and that many of the initiatives included in the strategy have no funding attached to them.

The council said that while having a strategy was a “positive step when tackling the challenges facing the UK economy”, it had yet to bring about much progress towards meeting the four grand challenges.

It called for a revised strategy that is “more tightly focused a core set of grand challenges, financed at scale, co-ordinated across government and committed to over the longer-term”.

“The council believes a much greater degree of focus, financing and policy coordination is needed to meet [the four grand] challenges,” it said.

This is especially urgent in the case of the clean growth goal – which aligns with the government’s target to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – the advisers said.

The council called for the refreshed strategy to have three core attributes: longevity, scale and coordination.

To ensure the strategy is able to scale up initiatives to meet policy priorities outlined in the strategy, the government has been urged to consider reducing the number of policies it tries to tackle. The council identified 142 distinct policies contained included in the strategy in total, across five areas: ideas, infrastructure, places, business environment and people.

“The council believes it is worth reconsidering the span and scope of existing Industrial Strategy policies, to assess if they are operating at the scale necessary to be effective. The key to a successful strategy is prioritisation,” the report said.

It also called for greater policy coordination and to ensure the consistency and longevity of commitments contained in the strategy. At the moment, the council said, it is “simply too early to tell if those policies will have the required degree of longevity necessary for success in meeting the longer-term objectives of the Industrial Strategy”.

Andy Haldane, chair of the Industrial Strategy Council, said: "At present, these policies are not yet operating with the consistency and coordination, nor with the scale, necessary to meet these challenges. With a new government in place committed to meeting these challenges, there is a great opportunity to refresh and renew not only the Industrial Strategy but the entire economy”.

Categories Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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Beckie Smith

Three-quarters of civil servants don’t trust government to involve staff in automation drive

2 days 1 hour ago
News

Prospect survey concern that staff will not be involved in decisions about how future tech is implemented

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Nearly three-quarters of civil servants have said they are not confident they would be involved in decisions about how the government uses new technology, in survey results revealed after cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill indicated that automation would likely lead to a smaller workforce.

Of 1,705 survey respondents to a poll by Survation for the Prospect trade union who self-identified as working in civil service and agencies, 73% said they were either "not that confident" or "not confident at all" that they will be involved in decision about how tech is implemented. In addition, 76% said they were not confident that employers would share proceeds of productivity growth with employees.

The poll data has been released following Sedwill’s prediction that automation and artificial intelligence will reduce the size of the civil service workforce.

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“I would like to see more processes handled by automation, AI and intelligent software,” Sedwill said in an interview with the government’s Civil Service Quarterly publication last week.

“This means that, overall, we will probably need fewer people. And our turnover means that we can manage that in a smooth way; that we will be able to pay those people who we retain more. It means training them more. It means ensuring, in particular, that where we value EQ as much as IQ, we’re really equipping those people to do the job well.”

Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham told CSW that Sedwill was "of course right to say that there will be a greater use of AI and other new technology in the civil service in the future, as there will be in workplaces across the country".

He added: “The challenge is how that change is managed, and our research shows that compared to other workers, civil servants are less confident that they will be involved in decisions about tech or that they will share in the benefits that it could bring.

“If the move to a more technology-driven civil service is going to succeed, Sedwill and others need to focus as much on the humans as they do on the machines.”

More than half of those polled said they were either quite or very confident that their employer would provide training to help staff get the most from the new technology (58%), while a similar number anticipated they would receive assistance to help employees update their digital skills more generally (56%).

However, the civil service was less optimistic about being involved in decisions about the use of technology than other people who took part in the survey. The poll reported 7,500 responses from Prospect members in industries including air transport, broadcasting, defence, education, nuclear waste processing and disposal, and scientific research and development

The cross-sector "confidence score" demonstrating how much people trusted they would be involved in tech decisions was seven percentage points higher (-42%) than it was for civil servants alone (-49%). Those in other sectors were also more optimistic that the benefits of tech would be shared with employees.

But civil servants were more optimistic they would be receive the training needed to make the most of new technology, and that they would be given help with digital skills more generally.

Tags HR Leadership & Management Science & Technology Transformation Categories Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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Richard Johnstone

Home Office to open applications for post-Brexit immigration system in autumn

2 days 2 hours ago
News

Policy proposals unveiled today include no visa route for "low-skilled" workers

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The Home Office must be ready to implement new visa routes by the autumn, the government has said, as it unveils plans for a post-Brexit immigration system that it says will include no visas for “low-skilled” work in the UK.

The government will allow people to apply for “key routes” to immigration from this autumn, ahead of a full rollout of its post-Brexit immigration system in January, the Home Office said in a policy paper published today.

The announcement gives the Home Office just months to prepare for the points-based system, which the department said would end free movement and treat EU citizens the same as those from other countries.

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The new system, which will be in full effect from 1 January 2021, will require all visa applicants to have a job offer that meets a minimum salary threshold – set at £25,600 for most workers. People with a PhD or those in an area that has a skills shortage will be able to apply with job offers at a lower salary threshold of £20,380.

Prospective migrants will also be awarded points based on criteria such as English language skill level and qualifications, and must meet a minimum points threshold to qualify for a visa.

The policy document, published this morning, warned employers that do not already have Home Office approval to sponsor non-EU employees’ work visas that they should “consider doing so now” to ensure they are ready in time.

The salary thresholds are in line with the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee, which last month warned the government against using its proposed threshold of £30,000.

The MAC will be tasked with coming up with a so-called “shortage occupation list” requiring more workers, as it does now. Jobs on the existing list include chefs, speech and language therapists, veterinarians and secondary-school reachers.

The system “not implement a route for lower-skilled workers”, the policy statement said.

“UK businesses will need to adapt and adjust to the end of free movement, and we will not seek to recreate the outcomes from free movement within the points-based system,” it said.

The Home Office said employers must spend more on training and retaining staff, and on technology and automation, and move away from a “reliance on cheap labour from Europe”.

Under the plan, workers will require to meet a 70-point threshold to qualify for a visa, based on information on nine areas. As well as salary and any shortage occupations the other characteristics include a job offer, speaking English, and education qualifications, with each category worth 10 or 20 points, although salaries between £20,480 and £23,039 carry no points.

Also today, the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also announced an expansion of a pilot scheme to enable seasonal workers to work on farms – quadrupling the number of work permits on offer to 10,000 a year.

The policy document said some “low-skilled” migrants would still be able to work in the UK under the new system, noting that an estimated 170,000 “recently-arrived non-EU citizens” now work in lower-skilled occupations at the moment despite the absence of a visa route specifically targeting these non-EU workers.

This workforce includes the dependents of migrants who hold work visas and “will continue to be available”, the document said.

And agreements with other countries to enable young people to travel and work, which bring around 10,000 young people into the UK every year, will stay in place, the Home Office said.

The policy statement noted that while EU citizens would face the same restrictions on immigration as their non-EU counterparts, they would also have access to the same visa routes.

These include the global talent visa – the rebranded exceptional talent visa, which enables highly-sought-after scientists and tech specialists to come to the UK without a job offer. The government has recently expanded the route, which was previously capped at 1,000 a year – a cap that has never been met.

The policy statement said the announcement was the first step in its plan for a points-based immigration system. “The Home Office will continue to refine the system in the light of experience and will consider adding further flexibility into the system including additional attributes that can be ‘traded’ against a lower salary,” it said.

“The Home Office will publish further detail on the points-based system in due course, including detailed guidance regarding the points tables, shortage occupations and qualifications,” it said.

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Brexit International Affairs & Security Categories Government and politics International Relations About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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Beckie Smith

Minister says No.10 must improve vetting processes after adviser Andrew Sabisky quits

2 days 22 hours ago
News

Kwarteng said vetting processes should be "much more severe" following Sabisky scandal

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Kwarteng told Sky's Kay Burley Sabisky's comments were "racist and reprehensible". Photo: Sky

No.10 must look again at how advisers are hired, following a furore over the hiring, and subsequent resignation, of an aide who had made controversial comments on eugenics, race and welfare claimants.

Kwasi Kwarteng said there should be "much more severe" vetting processes for staff, after Andrew Sabisky stood down over remarks the energy minister called "racist and reprehensible".

Sabisky, who described himself as an independent researcher and a "super-forecaster", was recruited after the prime minister's top aide Dominic Cummings put out a call for "misfits and weirdos" to apply for special adviser and civil service roles at Downing Street.

But the 27-year-old adviser announced his resignation yesterday amid a growing storm over his comments on eugenics, race and welfare claimants. Many of the comments that attracted criticism were made underneath posts on Dominic Cummings's blog.

But the energy minister called for an overhaul of this system as he warned "unorthodox" methods could let people with "reprehensible" views into the government.

Speaking to Sky's Kay Burley,  Kwarteng said Sabisky would have been sacked from the role but had "jumped before he was pushed".

"They were racist remarks and as soon as that came to light he left the government pretty quickly, and we have drawn a line underneath that," he said.

"I don't know how he was recruited, I don't know who he is. I read in the paper that he is 27 years old. He has clearly got lots of views and has written profusely on them. And now I am pleased to say he has left the government."

He added: "I don't know how this man appeared on the horizon, I don't know how he was recruited... what I do know is that his remarks were offensive and racist and as soon as they came to light he left the government pretty quickly.

"I think we should prevent racists from coming into No.10 or wherever he was working. I think we do need to look at these processes."

The interview came after an official spokesperson for the prime minister repeatedly refused to condemn Sabisky's writings, which included the claim that black people were intellectually inferior to white people. The spokesperson refused 32 times to outright disavow the comments at a briefing, simply saying the Prime Minister’s views are “well-publicised and well-documented”.

'Recruited in an unorthodox way'

Asked if there would be a shake-up within No.10 in the wake of the resignation, Kwarteng said: "I think the vetting will be much more severe.

"In any walk of life, I remember working in banks before politics, there are people who slip through the net. Who are perhaps recruited in an unorthodox way and sometimes have reprehensible views.

"This happens across our community, and across our economy. And I think the main thing is to try and ensure that it doesn't happen again and I think we will be looking at vetting processes more closely."

On Monday evening, Sabisky stepped down from his role, claiming he was the victim of a "giant character assasination".

He tweeted: "Hey all. The media hysteria about my old stuff online is mad but I wanted to help HMG [the government] not be a distraction.

"Accordingly I've decided to resign as a contractor. I hope Number 10 hires more people with good geopolitical forecasting track records and that media learn to stop selective quoting.

"I know this will disappoint a lot of people but I signed up to do real work, not be in the middle of a giant character assassination.

"If I can't do the work properly there's no point, and I have a lot of other things to do with my life."

Author Display Name John Johnston Tags HR Categories Government and politics About the author

John Johnston is a reporter for CSW's sister site PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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Beckie Smith

Chief Brexit negotiator says UK won’t accept EU's 'level playing field' in trade talks

2 days 23 hours ago
News

David Frost says the UK will not extend the transition period beyond the end of December as “at that point we recover our political and economic independence in full”

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The government’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned Brussels the UK will not accept the EU’s call for “level playing field” regulation in future trade talks.

David Frost said such a demand “fails to see the point of what we are doing” as the UK leaves the European Union.

In his first public intervention since Britain left the bloc on January 31, the head of the government’s Taskforce Europe – who is employed as a special adviser after replacing civil servant Sir Olly Robbins when Boris Johnson became prime minister but is a former Foreign Office official – said: “It is central to our vision that we must have the ability to set laws that suit us, to claim the right that every other non-EU country in the world has. 

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“So to think that we might accept EU supervision on so called level playing field issues simply fails to see the point of what we are doing.  It isn’t a simple negotiating position which might move under pressure – it is the point of the whole project.”

Speaking at the Université libre de Bruxelles, Frost argued the only way forward is to build a “relationship of equals” and use open and fair competition between the parties to navigate “highly sensitive areas” of each side’s jurisdiction and democratic consent.

"Boris Johnson’s speech in greenwich two weeks ago set out a record of consistently high standards of regulation and behaviour in the UK, in many cases better than EU norms or practice," he said.

"How would you feel if the UK demanded that, to protect ourselves, the EU dynamically harmonise with our national laws set in Westminster and the decisions of our own regulators and courts?"

The former diplomat and one-time ambassador to Denmark added: “So if it is true, as we hear from our friends in the Commission and the 27, that the EU wants a durable and sustainable relationship in this highly sensitive area, the only way forward is to build on this approach of a relationship of equals.”

Frost also reiterated Johnson’s position that the UK will not extend the transition period beyond December 2020.

The comments come as French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned the UK is unlikely to achieve a future trade agreement with the bloc by the end of the year.

But on reaching a deal by December, Frost added: “At that point we recover our political and economic independence in full – why would we want to postpone it?

“In short, we only want what other independent countries have

Tags Brexit International Affairs & Security Policymaking Categories Government and politics International Relations About the author

Anahita Hossein-Pour is a reporter for PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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Richard Johnstone

Home Office told to improve record keeping after fraudulent documents 'not reported'

3 days 1 hour ago
News

Passport office not told when right of abode applicants were 'known or suspected to have used deception', inspector says

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The Home Office's Whitehall HQ. Photo: PA

The immigration watchdog has told the Home Office to improve its record keeping for right of abode cases after it emerged the department could not show that it had refered people who had fraudulently applied for the immigration status for enforcement action

In an inspection last year, David Bolt, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration found the Home Office was not following up on failed applications for right of abode applications – a status given to some British subjects and Commonwealth citizens proving they have the right to stay in the UK – in any consistent way.

The inspection also found the Home Office had wrongly added people whose right of abode applications were refused to a list of people with no right to be in the UK – an error it has since corrected.

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Bolt’s report, published last week, found that the Home Office had failed to fully implement the recommendations of a report he wrote on the same subject following an inspection in 2016, which also found record keeping was poor.

The 2016 report found that although the refusal rate for right of abode applications was low, there was “no consistency about referring those individuals who did not have the right to remain in the UK at the time of their application for enforcement action”. Bolt's latest inspection found some improvements, but he said the problem had not been fully resolved.

Being refused right of abode does not always mean someone has no right to be in the UK, as the applicant may either have or be eligible to apply for another immigration status giving them the right to stay.

But Bolt found in 2016 that people were not referred for enforcement action – which can include deportation – even when the individual was “known or suspected to have used deception, typically forged or fraudulent documents, when applying for right of abode”.

And the 2019 reinspection again “raised doubts about the effectiveness” about the process for reporting cases where people may have used fraudulent documents to HM Passport Office, according to Bolt. Home Office records did not provide “a consistent picture of whether information regarding forged or fraudulently obtained documents or about the applicant’s attempted deception was sent to HMPO,” he said.

People 'wrongly considered for enforcement action'

The chief inspector also raised concerns about the measures the Home Office had taken to remedy the lack of consistency in how it handled concerns since his last report.

In 2017 the Home Office placed all of the applications it had refused for right of abode into the migration refusal pool – its record of people whose have no right to be in the UK, either because their leave has expired, or because an application to stay has been refused. However, Bolt said the department was wrong to do so because someone who has been refused right of abode may still have the right to remain in the UK, and a refusal has “no effect on immigration status”.

People in the migration refusal pool can face what the Home Office calls “enforcement action” such as removal from the country.

“When the Home Office recognised its mistake the practice was quickly stopped. However, over a period of several months, ‘a small number of cases’ were wrongly referred for consideration for enforcement action,” Bolt said.

Some of the people whose files were wrongly placed into the migration refusal pool were Windrush individuals. Bolt said it was “reasonable to assume” these people have since been identified and removed from the pool, given the Home Office’s efforts to address the Windrush scandal – but said it must now “provide assurances that all cases, not just Windrush ones, that were wrongly ‘pulled’ into the MRP have been identified and remedial action taken”.

In its response, published alongside the report, the Home Office confirmed for the first time that it had reviewed these cases.

“All decision that were ‘pulled’ into the migration refusal pool have been carefully reviewed. No cases that required any remedial action were identified,” it said.

The department said it accepted all of Bolt's recommendations.

"The Home Office remains committed to implementing recommendations made by the ICIBI and has noted the comments that some elements of recommendations made in the previous inspection remain open; these have been followed up robustly," it said.

Publication delays continue

The report was one of three published this month. The first, on visa onshoring, found a lack of transparency about a programme to close overseas visa decision-making centres.

Another, published the same week as the right of abode report, examined “country of origin” information compiled by the Home Office on conditions in Jamaica and Ethiopia to support immigration decision making. The report made a number of detailed recommendations about how to improve the guidance, as well as an overarching call to carry out an open analysis of the country of origin information it produces – which the Home Office accepted.

All three reports were published significantly outside the Home Office’s own target timeframe of eight weeks after receiving them. The right of abode report came three and a half months after Bolt submitted it, while the country of origin report remained unpublished for more than six months.

Last month CSW revealed that the department had failed to publish a single one of the 14 reports Bolt submitted in 2019 within eight weeks. Three from that year are still waiting to be published.

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags International Affairs & Security Categories Government and politics International Relations Public order, justice and rights About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith

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Beckie Smith

Former Civil Service College sold for retirement housing

3 days 1 hour ago
News

Site in Sunningdale will be turned into homes and retirement apartments

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Police carry out full security precautions at the impressive entrance to Northcote House at Sunningdale where talks are to take place on the future of Ireland in 1973. Photo: PA

The Cabinet Office has sold the site of the former Government Civil Service College at Sunningdale Park in Berkshire for around £50m to developers who will turn the building into retirement apartments.

The sale of Northcote House to Berkeley Group, who will also build 168 new homes at the site, is part of the Cabinet Office’s plans to reduce the size of the government estate and free up land for homes. In the past year alone, 339 former government buildings have been sold, raising £2.1bn.

The government has owned Northcote House since 1947. It was used as a training centre for civil servants until 2012, when the Civil Service College, by then part of the National School of Government, closed.

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In recent years, the building had been used as a conference centre and hotel.

The sale to Berkeley, which was conditionally agreed in 2016 pending planning permission, has now been completed.

As part of the development of the site, the listed building will be restored to form the centre of a retirement village with 103 apartments for people over 55, a restaurant and facilities for both property owners and local residents.

As well as being used for training officials, the building is famous as the site of talks on the future of Northern Ireland in 1973. These led to the short-lived Sunningdale Agreement to form a power-sharing executive, which collapsed in May 1974.

Announcing the sale, Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew said: “This is a concrete example of how reducing the size of the government estate can both generate money for vital public services and provide much-needed new homes.

“The restoration of the listed building at the heart of the development and opening up of its surrounding parkland for use by the public will also benefit the local community for generations to come."

Berkeley Group chairman Tony Pidgley said the firm was "delighted to be moving ahead with this exciting project and look forward to working with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and local people to create a fantastic community at Sunningdale Park, alongside a beautiful new 42 acre public park for everyone to enjoy.”

Above: Prime minister Edward Heath opens the Civil Service College, Sunningdale Park in 1970. Head of the civil service Sir William Armstrong has his back to the camera. Photo: PA

Do you have memories of being trained at the Civil Service College? Please share them below.

Tags Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Procurement & Commercial Transformation Categories Government and politics About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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Richard Johnstone

Automation likely to shrink civil service workforce, says Sedwill

3 days 18 hours ago
News

Cabinet secretary says greater use of automation will allow for better rates 

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Sir Mark Sedwill Credit: CSW/Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has indicated that the civil service will likely shrink after a period of post-referendum expansion as increasing use is made of automation and artificial intelligence to deliver services.

But the nation’s top civil servant said he expected the reduction in the size of the service – which numbered just over 419,000 as of September, according to the Institute for Government – to be managed in a “smooth” way through the organisation’s turnover rates. The civil service has grown in number every year since 2016, when its headcount was at a post-war low of 384,260, the IfG said.

Sedwill added that a smaller civil service would also give greater leeway for departments to pay their remaining staff more – and recognised that staff leaving one department for another in order to boost their pay was an “embedded incentive” that Whitehall needed to deal with.

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“I would like to see more processes handled by automation, AI and intelligent software,” Sedwill said in an interview with the government’s Civil Service Quarterly publication.

“This means that, overall, we will probably need fewer people. And our turnover means that we can manage that in a smooth way; that we will be able to pay those people who we retain more. It means training them more. It means ensuring, in particular, that where we value EQ as much as IQ, we’re really equipping those people to do the job well.”

According to the IfG, just 9% of staff left the civil service in 2017-18, which is the latest year for which figures are available, but it said the inter-departmental turnover rate was a bigger issue.

While the now-defunct Department for Exiting the European Union experienced the highest turnover, the IfG noted that the Cabinet Office had seen a quarter of its staff move to other departments.

The Whitehall Monitor 2020 report said the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; HM Treasury; and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government all had turnover rates above 18%. The IfG said the rates appeared to be an issue with policy-heavy departments.

Sedwill suggested he understood why the civil service had attracted criticism for staff churn and accepted that a decade of pay restraint was one cause – a point made recently by Rachel Wolf, who co-wrote the Conservative Party’s most recent general-election manifesto.

“I think the criticism has some point,” he said. “You can see turnover if, for example, the offices of different departments in the same city pay different rates.

“And though you see more turnover in Whitehall, again, we mustn’t confuse Whitehall, which accounts for only about 10% of the entire workforce, with the civil service as a whole.

“And it’s also true that in certain specialisms, people don’t tend to move. But that doesn’t mean the criticism’s not valid. It comes as much from civil servants themselves as from anyone outside.”

Sedwill acknowledged that the tow-year public sector pay freeze which began in 2010 and subsequent pay restraint – which unions argue has lasted longer for the civil servants than for other workers – was part of the problem.

“I think there are structural factors. Pay is clearly one of them,” he said.

“A decade of pay restraint has made it harder and has incentivised some behaviours that are sensible for the individual but not in the interests of the organisation as a whole.

“If the only way of getting a pay increase at your grade is to move departments, or the only way to get promoted is to move jobs, then people will move. There is something about those embedded incentives we need to address.”

The full interview can be read here.

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Jim.Dunton

Union seeks Civil Service Pension Scheme judicial review

3 days 21 hours ago
News

High Court move will challenge government’s failure to reduce contributions following firefighters' ruling

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HM Treasury Credit: PA

The civil service’s biggest union has said it plans to launch a High Court challenge over the government’s decision to pause a mechanism that should have reduced Civil Service Pension Scheme members’ contributions last year.

The PCS said ministers were effectively “robbing” its members of 2% of their pension contributions by making them pay more than a 2018 independent valuation suggested was necessary.

Its announcement comes just over a year after then chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss said the government was pausing a scheduled formal valuation of public-sector pension schemes because a December 2018 Court of Appeal judgement related to firefighters made it impossible to do the scheduled valuation “with any clarity”.

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She argued that the ruling – which found “transitional protections” introduced in 2015 in connection with the creation of new pension schemes effectively discriminated against younger firefighters – could have an impact of £4bn a year on public sector pensions. Although the court case was brought by the Fire Brigades Union, it has implications for all public-sector pensions.

Truss subsequently said that changes to employee benefits that unions were expecting based on provisional valuations would only be introduced if the government was successful in challenging the Court of Appeal’s firefighters decision. The Supreme Court subsequently refused its appeal.

The same 2015 pensions reforms that introduced the transitional protection arrangements also included a “cost control mechanism” designed to trigger automatic changes to members benefits and contributions based on periodic valuations. The government accepted that provisional valuations had indicated the mechanism would be triggered by the formal valuation that should have taken place last year, and PCS said the result would have been a 2% cut in contributions for civil servants, in addition to bolstered death-in-service benefits and improved accrual rates for "alpha" scheme members. 

PCS said that at a meeting in Whitehall last week, it had been told that the government was planning to seek parliamentary authority to make civil servants carry on paying pension contributions at the current rate – effectively avoiding the cost-control readjustment that should have taken place last year.

Union general secretary Mark Serwotka said that ministers’ decision was “totally unacceptable” and would be challenged jointly with the Fire Brigades Union.

“If you think about it, every month when you get your paycheck, 2% that you give the government should be in your pay packet,” he said.

“It’s completely unfair and we’ve told the government that they need to give you that money as soon as possible. But at the moment they’re not listening.

“We’re telling the government to cut your pensions contributions immediately by 2% and guarantee that by moving forward they will implement the legal case won by the firefighters to improve everybody’s pension.

“We met with representatives of the Fire Brigades Union and we will now, jointly with them, be seeking a judicial review to force the government to give you the pensions money back.”

 

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Jim.Dunton

HMRC chief officially opens new Bristol hub

3 days 21 hours ago
News

Glass Wharf will house 1,650 tax-collection agency staff

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HMRC's 3 Glass Wharf hub in Bristol Credit: HMRC

HM Revenue and Customs chief executive Jim Harra has officially opened the tax-collection agency’s new Bristol hub.

Eight-storey 3 Glass Wharf will be the base for 1,650 HMRC staff, as well as officials from other departments. Some HMRC and Cabinet Office workers moved into the building in the autumn.

Designed by architect Darling Associates, the building is part of a regeneration area near Bristol’s Temple Meads Station and is the second of HMRC’s 13 new regional hubs to open.

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Presiding over the official opening on last week, Harra said he was “incredibly proud” of the high-tech centre and pledged it would deliver local benefits and offer staff new ways of working.

“This building will be a great place to work and I look forward to seeing the positive impact it will have on Bristol and its local economy,” Harra said.

“It will bring teams together so they have the opportunity to work differently and more effectively, making HMRC a tax and customs administration fit for the future.”

Work on 3 Glass Wharf started in 2016. It is part of HMRC’s 10-year transformation programme to become one of the most digitally-advanced tax authorities in the world.

HMRC’s new location in Belfast, Erskine House also saw staff moving in in January 2020. By 2022 regional centres will be opened in Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Stratford. HMRC also opened its first regional centre in Croydon in 2017. 

HMRC’s 1 Ruskin Square base in Croydon was the department’s first hub to open, back in 2017.

The department expects to save more than £300m by 2025 as a result of its hubs programme – and make annual savings of about £90m by 2026.

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The art of the possible: an interview with Rupert McNeil

4 days ago
Interview

“EU Exit is a big thing and it creates pressures that weren’t there before”, the civil service’s chief people officer tells Geoffrey Lyons

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Photo: Baldo Sciacca

To Rupert McNeil, the civil service is like a big unsolved puzzle. The chief people officer, who manages 3,500 HR professionals across government, says the challenges he faces on the job excite him and describes some of his recruitment objectives as “engineering problems”. He speaks energetically of complex processes and uses terms like “distributed systems” and “false positive.” Even in his downtime he devours books on how other countries run their governments.

Perhaps his greatest fascination is China. CSW sits down with McNeil almost exactly two years after he spoke to us approvingly of the “enormous machine” that is the Chinese government’s HR department. However one feels about China’s government, he said then, its top-down approach has the enviable effect of ensuring its 10 million civil servants work in unison. The UK’s civil service, by contrast, operates more like “a partnership in a professional services firm” with each permanent secretary “running very different businesses”. 

McNeil now offers a slightly revised analysis. He says the civil service has come closer together in the last two years, and that Brexit planning has revealed “the art of the possible”. 

“For the first time we’re mobilising over 1,500 volunteers between departments to support no-deal and post-day-one planning,” McNeil says. “I’ve been in conversations with ministers who say that for the first time they’ve got 100 people coming to their department [from another department]. That’s an example of something that wasn’t the normal way that we did things in the civil service but which is now emerging out of this situation.” 

In addition to the creation over the last four years of civil service functions and professions, which have led to better planning and movement of people, McNeil says Brexit has “undoubtedly” aided the civil service operationally. 

“It helps diversity and inclusion because it creates new opportunities for people to backfill jobs or get temporary promotion,” he says. “And it helps training because people can get up to speed in the skills that are needed.”  

According to plan 

Boosting diversity and training are both core objectives of the Civil Service Workforce Plan, published in July 2016 by then-Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock. The plan’s broad priorities, which also include improving commercial capability and ensuring the civil service leads the world in digital transformation, are divided into a series of objectives with deadlines ranging from just a few months after the plan was published to May 2020.

“We’re probably around 85 to 90% complete in terms of doing the work that we said we’d do,” McNeil says, adding that Brexit has been an “accelerator” rather than a deterrent. “Had we not had the workforce plan, we still would have needed to do the things that were in it to be able to provide capability for EU Exit.” 

The final phase of the plan will cover what McNeil calls “the hard work of deployment”: rolling out IT systems for the civil service’s new learning and recruiting platforms, the latter of which will be used as a mechanism for the much-anticipated “success profiles”. 

First introduced by civil service chief executive John Manzoni in May 2018, success profiles weren’t specifically featured in the workforce plan but evolved as part of its commitment to develop an alternative to competency-based recruitment. They work by assessing candidates against a “flexible framework” of factors like strengths and experience. 

“You can be a bit lazy in how you assess someone’s experience,” McNeil says. “You can say you looked at the CV, or you might even use the educational institution that someone went to as a shorthand for experience, but of course that’s just a lazy way of doing it. You really need to work out how this person is experienced for the job, which in most cases is not related to where they were educated or purely what their CV says.” The Cabinet Office’s guidance on success profiles states that experience can be transferable from non-work contexts like hobbies and volunteer work, and that candidates will be assessed on their performance, not by how much time they’ve served in a particular field.

McNeil says that even though the success profiles are still being rolled out, they’ve already been well received. “People like to use them,” he says. “They give hiring managers permission to articulate jobs in a rounded way to bring out the best in the people who are applying.” 

Now hiring

Success profiles aren’t the only means by which recruitment is being overhauled. The workforce plan sets out a bold ambition to advertise all roles externally by May, which it says will ensure the civil service has “the most skilled and capable people delivering national priorities”. McNeil says his team have found that even when jobs are advertised externally, they’re still more likely to go to civil servants. “And that doesn’t surprise me,” he says. “It reflects how the civil service has hidden its capability under a bushel.”  At the time of writing, just 60% of jobs below the senior civil service level are advertised externally – but McNeil remains confident that the deadline to reach 100% by May will be met. 

While most new talent is being introduced through traditional channels like the Fast Stream and professional associations such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (McNeil says ties to these bodies are strengthening due to Brexit demand), there are also more creative recruitment efforts. In late 2017, for example, the Civil Service Commission teamed up with the Cabinet Office, Ministry of Justice, and Civil Service Local to launch the Going Forward into Employment programme, which provides civil service jobs to ex-offenders from low security prisons in the North West of England. In August, Civil Service Commission chief executive Peter Lawrence said in a GOV.UK blog that, due to the success of the programme, the commission now wants to broaden its reach to support other groups facing employment obstacles. 

“I think there’s a real opportunity to help people come out of the care system, and to help people who are making the move out of a long-term committed career in the armed forces,” McNeil says. “I think it’s a really fantastic programme and what the Commission have done there is really inspired.” 

For the chief people officer, the civil service is generally effective at attracting new talent, but there’s room for improvement. He thinks its public sector ethos, which gives it a “huge advantage”, is undersold. He also thinks it could do a better job at attracting people who don’t necessarily want to become career civil servants. “While the ideal civil service career is to rise from an apprenticeship to being a permanent secretary, ideally we would also have people come in for four to five years and then go out again, acquire more skills, and then come back,” he says.

Stress test

While McNeil is optimistic about Brexit’s impact on the civil service, he acknowledges that it has also taken an enormous toll on the workforce. One civil servant told Channel 4 News that after a long career in the civil service they “never felt so dispirited” and that their wellbeing and marriage had suffered enormously. Another said that they went for counselling after struggling to cope with doing the work of several teams. Last April, less than a year after McNeil announced the availability of 2,200 mental health first aiders to help deal with the issue, it was revealed that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs alone had spent £40,000 on counselling services.

“EU Exit is a big thing and it creates pressures that weren’t there before,” McNeil says. He adds that a lot of the strain caused by Brexit preparation can be attributed to the fact that the work has to “move to where the people are,” requiring more of some departments than of others (Defra has over a fifth of the more than 300 Brexit workstreams across Whitehall). 

While efforts to address workplace stress had already been at the top of the HR function’s agenda, McNeil says that tackling it has, like so many other things, been “accelerated” by Brexit. “It’s made people more aware of how to approach wellbeing in a more sensible way,” he says. “There’s a real focus around creating resilience, and we’ve learned a lot from environments like counterterrorism where resilience and healthy working have already been an important focus for many years.”

Opening up

McNeil is himself no stranger to stress. In 2014, his lifelong battle with anxiety led to a mental breakdown that resulted in him taking three months off work, a doubled dose of prozac, and enlisting in two forms of therapy. He attributes the bulk of his recovery to the “practical steps” that didn’t require a doctor: eating cleanly, exercising regularly, and monitoring sleep “much more closely”. “It wasn’t going to be sorted out by pills alone,” he says. 

McNeil thinks the root cause of his condition is probably genetic. He has two siblings, one is bipolar and the other suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. For him, the “gene” manifests itself as anxiety and depression. He was prescribed Prozac in his mid-20s, which he says made a big difference, but by his mid-40s – at which time he was already a high-flying HR executive in the private sector – a combination of factors, including too much caffeine and too little sleep, caught up with him and caused the breakdown. 

In 2016, McNeil opened up about his experience on the civil service blog, writing that it prompted him to tick the disability box on his employment form and apply for a Workplace Adjustment Passport, which line managers use to document the support that an employee needs. Civil servants were quick to respond, calling the article “courageous” and “inspirational”. One official said it was a “touching and incisive act of leadership”.

“It’s really a high point for me when someone comes up, whether they’re inside the civil service or not, and says, ‘I read your blog. Thanks for doing that,’” McNeil says. “For me, it wasn’t actually a huge deal because I was in an environment in the civil service where I felt very comfortable doing it. I didn’t feel it was going to have any detriment.” 

McNeil says it was important to be transparent about his experience so that he could demonstrate how someone battling a mental health condition early in their career can eventually tackle it. But he also wanted to highlight the benefits of the Workplace Adjustment Passport, which he believes is an invaluable tool for both employees and line managers. He says it has two main advantages: it helps people better articulate and manage their plans (for example, McNeil says he knows someone who slightly adjusted their working hours to account for extra sleep caused by bouts of depression), and it facilitates the interview process, because candidates can be clear from the outset what their requirements are. “If you’ve got a passport, and [an employer] doesn’t want to accept it, then you know that’s not a place you want to be working for,” he says.

McNeil says he’s committed to ensuring the civil service isn’t that kind of place, that it’s somewhere “where people will want to work because they know they’ll be accepted.” It seems likely that his own legacy – as a leader who has been open about his personal challenges and has put inclusion at the top of the civil service’s agenda – will see to that.

Author Display Name Geoffrey Lyons Tags HR Categories Government and politics About the author

Geoffrey Lyons is CSW’s strategic partnerships editor. This article first appeared in CSW’s January 2020 HR supplement

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Richard Johnstone

Joint ministerial team at Foreign Office and DfID reignites merger rumours

4 days ago
News

Appointments suggest "fuller merger at later date", IfG senior fellow says

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International development secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan arrives at her first cabinet meeting after last week’s reshuffle. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The appointment of a joint ministerial team across the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development has sparked speculation over the aid department's future, despite the prime minister Boris Johnson stopping short of a rumoured merger in last week's cabinet reshuffle.

Last week’s reshuffle saw seven junior ministers appointed across DfID and the FCO, all with joint portfolios. Previously the two departments shared four ministers – positions that were introduced under former prime minister Theresa May.

The installation of a joint ministerial team came as DfID gained its fourth secretary of state in the space of a year. Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who has been a defence minister since last summer, was promoted to replace Alok Sharma, who became business secretary after less than a year at DfID. Sharma’s predecessor, Rory Stewart, was in the post for just two months.

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The appointments have raised questions about how the two departments will work together, and whether the Foreign Office is set to gain more influence over UK aid spending or development policy. 

Before Christmas, it had been reported that the prime minister was planning to merge the two departments as part of a series of machinery of government changes. No such changes materialised in last week’s reshuffle, but some commentators and politicians have questioned whether the combined ministerial roles indicate a merger could still happen in future.

Wendy Chamberlain, Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife, said on Twitter: “There have been rumours about the future of DdID for some time – is this the beginning of an FCO takeover?”

Sir Simon McDonald, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, confirmed the portfolios of each of the ministers in a series of statements on Twitter. Lord Tariq Ahmad is minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth; Wendy Morton for Europe and the Americas; Liz Sugg for overseas territories and sustainable development; James Duddridge for Africa; Nigel Adams for Asia; and James Cleverly for Middle East and North Africa.

Lord Zac Goldsmith is the only minister whose brief spans three departments – including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in his role as minister for pacific and the environment.

Welcoming the new ministers, DfID perm sec Matthew Rycroft said the seven joint roles had been agreed by the two departments’ secretaries of state.

Catherine Haddon, senior fellow at the Institute for Government, said that the posts are “not the usual joint ministers we see”, adding that the move “suggests a fuller merger at later date”.

Haddon added that there would now be questions over how the two secretaries of state would work together. “Will Trevelyan be attending any FCO ministerial meets, or will all her junior ministerial team be regularly meeting [foreign secretary Dominic] Raab without her? Combined regular meets would be far more sensible,” she said on Twitter.

Simon Starling, director of policy, advocacy and research for Bond, a network of UK-based non-governmental organisations, said: “We hope the increase in the number of joint ministers results in improved policy coherence across an aid and development agenda which prioritises the world’s poorest people and sustainable economic development.”

Bond coordinated a joint letter by more than 100 humanitarian charities in December, urging the government to keep DfID and the Foreign Office separate – warning that a merger would “risk dismantling the UK’s leadership on international development and humanitarian aid”.

“UK aid risks becoming a vehicle for UK foreign policy, commercial and political objectives, when it first and foremost should be invested to alleviate poverty,” the letter warned.

But while Starling told CSW it was encouraging to see DfID remain an independent department, he warned that the high turnover at the top of the department had “inevitably caused instability”.

He added: “DfID needs to be able to get on with the job of helping to make the world a safer, healthier and more sustainable place for us all, rather than living in constant fear of a guillotine above its head.”

When she was appointed international development secretary last week, Trevelyan said her policy priorities would include girls’ education, climate change and helping countries that receive UK aid become self sufficient.

“I want to show the British public we are delivering the best results for their aid, transforming the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, while promoting Britain’s economic and security interests,” she said.

Spokespeople for DfID and the Foreign Office confirmed the appointments but declined to say what the changes meant for the operation of the two departments.

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Beckie Smith