No coherence to Civil Service Academy ‘system’ - more needs to be done to foster learning and development

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez July 23, 2019
Summary:
MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee have also criticised the lack of insight into how money is spent on Civil Service learning and development.

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Since the 2012 closure of the National School for Government (NSG), a void has been left in developing future Civil Service leaders. Some attempts to counter this include the establishment of a number of ‘ad hoc’ academies - including the Government Digital Academy - but there is no coherent system in place and it is not clear how different parts of the academy system work together. 

Not only this, but the government is spending approximately £600 million a year on learning and development, but very little is known about how this money is spent, or who is accountable for it. 

These were the findings by MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, who in a report released this week have stated that more must be done to develop the next generation of Civil Service leaders. 

The Chair of the Committee said: 

The years since the NSG’s closure have seen plenty of positive initiatives to promote specialist skills in areas such as digital, commercial and procurement, but there is an absence of strategy and coordination.

Furthermore, nobody can explain how the Civil Service spends an estimated total of £600m per year on learning and development, let alone whether this delivers value for money. Indeed, following our inquiry, my Committee still does not know who the Head of the Civil Service should hold accountable for Civil Service learning and development. I am afraid this does raise governance and leadership issues.

The Civil Service’s ability to face future challenges with confidence depends on elected politicians and Civil Service leaders working together, towards shared objectives. All Ministers, and the Prime Minister in particular, must recognise this, and we recommend the urgent production of a White Paper as a first step towards doing so. 

This must set out how a new, central institution can build on the progress made, and become a worthy successor to the late National School for Government. I honestly believe that there is a will to do this, and it would strengthen civil service self-confidence.

Recommendations

The Civil Service, in recent history, had a reputation for hiring ‘generalists’ - people that didn’t have any specialised skills. Not only this, but for decades a lot of skills were outsourced to the large systems integrators, which managed a lot of what government did. 

As we’ve documented extensively, there has been somewhat of a change in approach over the past decade - by and large thanks to the work of the Government Digital Service, which mandated departments reexamine contracts and supported bringing functions back in house. 

Not only this, but departments, as noted above, have taken it upon themselves to establish ‘academies’ to help develop specialised skills across the Civil Service. The academies operating today, include: 

  • The Defence Academy 

  • The Government Finance Academy

  • The Commercial College

  • The Major Projects Leadership Academy 

  • The Government Digital Academy

  • The Diplomatic Academy; and 

  • The HMRC Tax Academy

However, the report states that a whilst this decentralised system of academies to support the capability gaps is “welcomed”, it adds that “inconsistencies of approach and funding have limited the benefits to the Civil Service as a whole”. 

The report recommends:

  • The confirmation of core funding for the Civil Service Leadership Academy under the next Spending Review, and the system of academies more generally. 

  • The National Leadership Centre should be allocated a permanent headquarters, research capacity, and necessary budget to ensure those at the top of the public service, including Civil Service leaders, can continue to enhance their skills.

  • A new institution should be established, led by a senior official directly accountable to the Head of the Civil Service and Minister for the Cabinet Office, to fill the hole left by the NSG’s closure. The Committee states that this should coordinate existing training efforts across Whitehall and set the direction of travel as the Civil Service “prepares for the future”.