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Civil Service of the Future

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Reform, Visits

With eight weeks still to go until Christmas it is perhaps a little bit too early to fully reflect on the ‘year that was’. However I have spent some time this week thinking about both our achievements to date and where I believe we can still do more.

The Civil Service Reform Plan we published last year set out the blueprint for a more open, skilled and unified civil service with the capability to really deliver, and we have made headway on all counts. There is a long way to go and plenty still to do, but we can be proud of what we have achieved – we are more digitally capable, skilled, transparent and joined up than ever before.

However amidst our efforts to re-shape and transform our organisation, there are things that we perhaps haven’t spent enough time thinking about – for me, the principal example is our long-term outlook.

The Reform Plan primarily focuses on actions we need to take forward in the immediate term to improve. What really stands out on my regular visits to departments and organisations across the country is the fact that people are keen to hear more about our future vision – we talk a lot about the Civil Service we are building right now, but what will it actually look like in five, ten or even twenty years?

It is important that we continue to reform and to innovate, constantly challenging ourselves to be better, but it is also important that we have a clear direction of travel; to make sure that, as we alter and improve, our culture and ethos does too.

Last Friday I travelled to the Manchester Civil Justice Centre to talk to staff from a range of departments and organisations about this very subject. These visits are a great opportunity to not only share my thoughts on the future trajectory of the Civil Service and offer my thoughts on what I believe can make us stronger, but to hear yours too.

One point that really resonated with me on Friday in Manchester was the importance that colleagues placed on the need to not only preserve, but continue to nurture, our diversity as an organisation. Amidst widespread change in all corners of the Civil Service, I am determined that this remains an enduring objective and was pleased to hear that colleagues share my passion.

But the discussion ventured beyond this – Manchester colleagues pointed to the need to remove unnecessary processes that are a hindrance to productivity, to build leadership capability, to develop cross-departmental interchange and to develop the Civil Service in a reputational sense so that we continue to attract the best talent. One civil servant I met in Manchester put it well when she said “we…need a positive PR campaign to show the public what we do.”

The environment in which we are all operating makes the need for a clear vision even more essential. Smaller budgets and fewer resources coupled with rising expectations means that we must all deliver more for less. We need to make sure we are focused on outcomes, not output – that individuals are rewarded for what they deliver and that the means exist to deliver outcomes that are cross-departmental in nature.

And we must achieve all this whilst being innovative and high-performing. We must make sure that we retain public confidence in the services we manage and deliver – to make sure that the Civil Service is not only looked upon as an indispensable asset to the government of the day, but also to the public that we serve.

Changing behaviours is a complex challenge. We are at the early stages of developing this vision and I am committed to ensuring that this is an open discussion to which all civil servants feel they can contribute. We will be holding engagement sessions with groups of staff from across the organisation to ensure that we get this right.

Just as importantly, however, I would like to hear from you directly. Is the picture of the Civil Service I have described above one that you recognise? Which values and behaviours either make you proud or frustrate you? What do want to retain or want to change?

As one colleague who attended the discussion in Manchester on Friday put it: "civil servants need to be proud to say 'I work for the Civil Service'…we are working together to make this country a success.” If we are looking for a benchmark for success where defining a future vision is concerned, the fulfilment of this particular ambition isn’t a bad place to start.

Please do use the comments section below to share your thoughts with me.

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  1. Comment by Ebitimi posted on

    i have learnt so many things today like for example, the need to not only preserve, but continue to nurture our diversity as an organisation

    • Replies to Ebitimi>

      Comment by J.A posted on

      The civil service needs a supercomputer(s) to get the information in-out quicker.

    • Replies to Ebitimi>

      Comment by Phyllis posted on

      Hear! Hear!, Neil Sutherland, David Sangster, Julia, Sandra, John D, Chris and Sarah.
      When making a mistake and upsetting someone are the two greatest errors, and change likely does both - especillay if you have no experience of the sector you are working in and no real life, commercial experience ouside of Uni and The Fast Stream, you end up with a system dedicated to the maintenance of the status quo and as The Times put it "Busy Doing Nothing".
      On Civil Service Reform, it was the best try in living memory - and haven't we been trying for 55 if not 250 years. But surely since the publication of the Public Administration Select Committee in September 2013, the current Civil Service Reform Plan is a busted flush?
      Many comments below seem to fit these two PASC conclusions"
      • The Civil Service exhibits the key characteristics of a failing organisation, in which most people know the system is failing, where nobody knows how to address failure, and the leadership are in denial about the scale of the challenge they face.
      • There is a persistent lack of key skills and capabilities across Whitehall and an unacceptably high level of churn of lead officials, which is incompatible with good government “
      The Service is caught in a Catch 22 situation where leadership doesn't know what it doesn't know but yet goes into complete denial ("Civil Service bashing") when successive governments and Ministers (its own customers) say the service isn't providing what they need. Swiss Watch Syndrome with probably the same consequences. (Some of them do know of course but aren't going to dimantle a system that got them where they are today.) The fear for the proposed, post-election, 2-House, multi-party Commission must be that ultimately politicians and Civil Servants have mainly the same establishment origins viz. public school fb. Oxbridge/Russell Group "Arts" degrees - and have a fair degree of interdependency in office.

  2. Comment by Neil Sampson posted on

    Whilst our leaders are all busy doing as they are told our people are busy delivering world-class services. This is in spite of leadership not because of it.

    • Replies to Neil Sampson>

      Comment by Neil Sutherland posted on

      Speaking as one who spent the first half of his career in the private sector before joining the civil service, I can only echo Neil Sampson’s point: we’re delivering ‘in spite of leadership not because of it’. Leadership is not about what you say; it’s about what you do – and many of our ‘leaders’ have arrived at the top completely unprepared for the role.

      Government needs to encourage people to move between the civil service and the private sector in both directions, but the current disparity in earnings between equivalent jobs makes that a distant dream. Yes, we want to be proud to be civil servants – but it’s very hard when we’re visibly poorer than our peers in the private sector and often unable to join them in activities outside work.

      • Replies to Neil Sutherland>

        Comment by David Sangster posted on

        Neil is absolutely right, but we need to go further, much further in our analysis of what a 21st century civil service needs to be. Let's start by highlighting one myth namely that we are a civll service - in fact we are two: an SCS and the rest of us hard working ordinary decent people trying to keep a roof over our heads and not the least interested in SCS hyperbole - the SCS with their own performance management, pay and bonus and trade union lack credibility because they are not one of us, we are most definitely not 'all in it together'. There are 5 key asks for the future of the service - 1) abolish the divide between SCS and other grades so we have integrity as one organisation; 2) an end to the paternalistic gradist approach with offensive performance management and guided distribution as we are suffering by imposition in the education department; 3) a culture that values expertise over generalists; 4) a recognition that our customers' views are paramount - how many collleagues are seeking 360 degree feedback? 5) a transparent grown up relationship between management/HR and the rest of us - stop dressing up an attack on our terms and conditions as 'a modern employment offer' and other Orwellian doublespeak - we are at rock bottom in DfE it is a 3D experience - 3 Ds - dreadful jobs, dreadful culture, dreadful management and it does not have to be this way and there will be a challenge to SCS to get their act together and join ordinary decent working people in the real world

      • Replies to Neil Sutherland>

        Comment by Emma Churchill posted on

        I take what you say, Neil, about pay differentials being a blocker to interchange between the public and private sector, although I think the data shows that this is becoming more common, and I think this is a trend we should find ways to support. But as a career civil servant who has never worked in the private sector I'm really interested in the views of those who have worked in both private and public about the strengths of the private sector (in skills, leadership behaviours, ways of working) you think we should be seeking to bring into the civil service. What should we be learning from the best private sector organisations? And do you think the private sector has anything to learn from the civil service?

        • Replies to Emma Churchill>

          Comment by Rossana Roby posted on

          I worked in the private sector most of my working life and have only been in the civil service for 14 years. When I first came here I thought how draconian and old fashioned it was in some respects and also very laid back in others. During my time here there have been a number of changes much along the lines of an American company I worked for in my previous job, these included how we deal with sick absence and the openess of our senior management and the way they communicate with us. These are changes that hopefully bring an improvement to the way we work.
          However, we are still a long way from the ability to interchange rapidly unless we have clear consistent guiidance. While I agree that we should utilise the 5 day training to learn how other roles and departments work; this becomes useless if it is not followed up with on the job training to bed in the things we have learnt. That is; unless we improve our guidance and the way it is issued.
          As I have mentioned, in my previous employement as a team leader with an American Company we had an excercise whereby we had to write instructions on how to tie a shoe lace. We then gave them to someone to follow. There was a lot of laughter when we saw the mess we had created but the seriousness was soon realised when no-one could tie the shoelaces properly.
          We discussed where we went wrong and a lot of the errors were little details like, hold the lace in your right hand, and our assumption that the person reading the instructions would know there pieces missing.
          If the guidance is right, it would be easier to train people to do any work that was needed with the minimum of training; which would be more cost effective and easier to transfer roles between departments.

  3. Comment by Gary Holden posted on

    Out here on the frontline of delivery to RN we never get to see or hear the SCS giving their thoughts nor do we really get an opportunity to challenge these ideas and 'improvements'. It seams to an old man like me that a lot of these ideas and changes are led by individuals employed to produce just these changes and not improve the CS in a real sense.

  4. Comment by Michael Dance posted on

    A very interesting article, it's a shame it appears to be a mirroro image here at Newcastle Pension centre where the carrot is placed behind the donkey.

  5. Comment by Laura posted on

    I absolutely agree that we need a positive PR campaign to show the public what we do. We need to be seen as real people doing a job, rather than the age old perception of a faceless 'taxman' who wants his greedy hands on everybody's money.

  6. Comment by P McIlwraith posted on

    Bob, I have worked in the Civil Service for more than 27 years. I have seen senior managers come & go, I have endured the horrific experience of an office closure and also made a great many friends along the way. I have generally enjoyed telling people that I work for (the old) Inland Revenue & now HMRC, somethimes just to see the panic on their face!! For most of my 27 years I have actually enjoyed my job. However, in the past 2 years I have noticed a serious decline in the substance of HMRC. Not just the job I do, but the people making the decisions & immplementing the procedures that affect our jobs; the new PMR system; senior managements "don't care" attitude to staff until the staff survey hits them. Instead of aimming to get all your high flyers in place you should be focusing on the ground staff - people actually doing the job; their job concerns; people who are sitting at desks whilst being blasted with freezing cold air from air vents that not fit for purpose. All great structure are built on the strongest foundations, HMRC foundations is allowing their foundations to crumble & if it is not careful it will collapse in the very near future.

  7. Comment by Noel Sykes posted on

    Bob, I work in the area of H&S part of which is managing personal injury litigation. I am fairly certain that across the CS this risk must cost millions in terms of time and hard cash. I am not saying that we could ever eliminate the risk because where you have people you will periodically have injury/ill health but it strikes me that if we treat the CS as a single corporate entity there will be lessons going unlearnt, differing approaches to case management resulting in inconsistent outcomes and of course, differing risk appetites with not a great deal of steer from the 'centre'. Cases are as much about the technical as they are the tactical and I think a reformed CS could include improved performance in this area.

  8. Comment by Mark Stacey posted on

    Dear Bob, I'm glad that you feel so enthusistic about the Civil Service and its' future in our Country. I dare say that you would not have achieved your senior position if you were not prepared to "Speak the Speak" and tow the "Party Line", and good for you. Sadly my wages after 23 years of service are little more than a Pound over the NM Wage and the main factor for me working is feeding my family - hopes of any type of career are long gone. No doubt when the next lot of policians gain the gleaming challis of power some other master plan will appear and the affluent likes of you will talk of our need to adapt and fire ourselves up with enthusiasm for the future. Sorry Bob, we're not "all in this together" and will never be. Best wishes, Mark (Sunderland HMRC).

  9. Comment by Andrew posted on

    I am afraid that the best staff will leave the Civil Service as there are no promotion opportunities, shrinking wages and an increased drive towards privatisation. Less with more is a finite concept.

    • Replies to Andrew>

      Comment by Robin Turner posted on

      I was transferred in to the Civil Service from an ALB. Having spent most of my life in industry as a very successful leader as opposed to a manager, and yes I do know the difference, I'm now taking voluntary exit back to planet earth before the star gate closes. I've seen talented, hard working and dedicated individuals treated like trash by managers who aren't worthy of that title and who will never become leaders. For that to happen you have to have people who would willingly trust you and follow your lead. I can't see any evidence of much of that type of leadership from the current SCS.

  10. Comment by Adrian posted on

    "We all have five days a year to develop our skills, and if you’re not already, now is the time to start taking them!"
    In five years as a civil servant, apart from my varous induction training, I've never had a day of training since. How do we request this please? It was only the 'Civil Service bulletin no.3' email that made me aware of this. Many be a headline news article to publisise. We're all working to become more digital & the CSL site does have valuble well presented content.

    • Replies to Adrian>

      Comment by Sandra posted on

      For impartial, honest one to one advice on available Learning and Development (not limited just to what's on CSL), I'd suggest you contact your workplace Union Learning Rep - there's more to development than just e learning!

  11. Comment by Elizabeth Nicholson posted on

    Having worked in the Civil Service (DWP) for over 30 years I have always been proud of the work I do. I agree that a positive PR campaign would be great but also feel that the press who consistently talk about our gold plated pensions and wages above the national average- which in my experiance in the DWP is not true, does not help our image.

  12. Comment by Anthony posted on

    How about telling us something useful, for example, you are in negotiations with George Osbourne to get a 5% pay rise for all Civil Servants in 2014

  13. Comment by Jan Nolan posted on

    Reply to Sir Bob
    Well that all sounds very idealistic in theory, and it may be fine for those of you at the top. But from my perspective four weeks away from redundancy it sounds a bit hollow. What the modernisation actually means for us here is that there are around a thousand highly skilled loyal long serving civil servants being thrown out on the scrap heap. And as the compensation scheme was conveniently downgraded just before this happened, we are getting a lot less ‘reward’ for our loyal service. On top of this we have had to endure two years of working, still to the best of our ability, knowing that we are leaving, and assisting with the process of change. Our offices are slowly being dismantled around us, and systems we have in the past been assured were vital are basically being trashed in favour of new centralised digital operations! On top of that we have customers in every day who are dreadfully upset that we are going, and are sure that they will be unable to access the new service effectively. For many it will undoubtedly be an improvement, but for anyone with a problem whose only access to expert assistance is the call centre in Swansea I’m frankly sceptical. I’m also convinced that the service the Post Office are being paid millions to take over from us is going to be considerably less in terms of consistency and accuracy and their queuing times are already awful! For someone like me who has been timed to the last second when serving at my counter, it is a downright disgrace. It is costing a vast amount of money, and the service is losing its most valuable asset – its staff. Frankly I believe the only advantage there is in this change is that the people doing the work and making the mistakes will not be civil servants any longer, and there will therefore be someone else for the government to blame for the errors.
    Those of us out here in the network have always felt a bit like outsiders, maybe we should have been spared your little pep talk!

  14. Comment by Michelle posted on

    We must acknowledge and learn from mistakes of the past. Going forward, we must guard against future developments in one government department acting negatively on the capability aims and objectives of another. The trade off of 'facilitation' is loss of control; service vs enforcement. If you want a classic example, I'll be happy to elaborate.

  15. Comment by john caddick posted on

    The new performance management system is a time consuming waste of effort and talent and the only people who are ever going to anywhere near an 'exceed' for behaviour are Uriah Heep and North Koreans.

  16. Comment by E Armstrong posted on

    Bob, I have been in the MoD Civil Service for 23 yrs, within N Ireland. I do my job very well and volunteer to help and assist with many issues above and beyond my post, so I am an effective employee and my reports support this. However, I do take exception with Civil Service Training and effective Trg and Development dosen't exsist, at least not in N I. An on-line course is a poor excuse for training and learning, I am located where I do not have the oppertunity to 'shadow' anyone and if I wish to actually apply for a real world course with a recognised qualification there is no money in the MOD purse for it. Although the Military can attend courses to brush up on their golfing skills!!! Please get out of London and come into the real world. Also, a lot of folk do exceptional work, but are not interested in doing courses and due to their work committment don't have the time.

    • Replies to E Armstrong>

      Comment by Jerry Arnott- Director of Civil Service Learning posted on

      CSL run face-to-face courses in Northern Ireland as and when requested by departments. These courses are one part of the CSL offer, which also includes a wide range of downloadable resources and – as you mention – e-learning. On e-learning, evaluation has shown that many civil servants who were originally skeptical of this approach are significantly more positive after trying a package. Many of the opportunities that make up the CSL offer can be accessed in bite-size chunks to accommodate civil servants who can only dedicate short periods to learning at any one time and all e-learning can be completed on your mobile phone or tablet making it an ideal way to use journey time or support remote working.

  17. Comment by Jim Sharp posted on

    I would wish to hear more MPs expressing their support for the Civil Service. The very negative press portrays the CS as an organisation full of ‘rich’ employees with ‘gold-plated’ pensions and the like. The morale of many will be affected by this. Most are ordinary, hard-working people much the same as anyone else in society. However, the press has continued to target the CS (public sector in general) and prejudice is rife.

    Change is inevitable in any organisation and can’t be avoided but the scale of the government’s swift, massive reform programme was implemented as a knee-jerk reaction to public (press!) outcry and the CS took the brunt of this. I’m sure many lives have been ruined or dramatically changed as a result…but who cares! A more gradual, balanced process over a longer period may have been more appropriate but party politics is clearly more important than people’s welfare – so much for caring government!

    One other point: as a Military Support Function (MSF) employee I don’t believe the CS give enough recognition of the skills and experience such employees bring to the organisation. This is something I would wish to see by way of reform in future.

  18. Comment by Paul posted on

    As a 30 year plus civil servant, I am and always have been proud to work for DWP. Tthe department, particularly its tireless frontline staff helping long term unemployed back into the workplace, makes a real difference to peoples lives. However my pride is somewhat dented whenever I turn on the TV and hear yet another of our political masters bashing the public sector, blaming CS terms and conditions for the financial mess and generally using us as convenient scapegoats. Unfortunately this is believed by Joe Public to the extent that I prefer not to say I am a Civil Servant when in public. That cannot be right. It seems fine for the PM to attend the Civil Service Awards and praise our commitment etc but also seems OK to then allow colleagues to run us down to press and public. This cannot be right and whilst it continues any PR campaign will be a waste of resources (the cost of which will no doubt be reported in a red top newspaper!)

    • Replies to Paul>

      Comment by Kevin Belam posted on

      Absolutely agree with Paul; as a Reporting Officer at the Mid Year Review point, I have already identified that all in my group are doing what is expected of them and given that the new reports are simply drop down boxes with grades, it will be difficult to put people in a pecking order and personally I would not be happy if I ended up in the bottom 5% if I was doing the job expected of me.

  19. Comment by craig posted on

    I think most people would all agree that effective performance management is essential for any organisation. But I wonder if you feel that the "guided distribution" really adds value? The experience of applying it at mid year reviews is that it is divisive, demoralising and counter-productive. Effective performance management is surely about identifying potential for improvement and then holding management and staff to account to deliver it: not assigning a label to a forced % of staff.

  20. Comment by Kevin Bealm posted on

    "Your guide to priority learning" has little bearing on Industrial Staff and when my Insdustrial Staff and I scroll through the learning opportunities, the opporunities related to their roles are few and far between, in fact, the vast majority of training that Skill Zone personnel receive is delivered directly from the uniformed branches not the MoD Civil Service.

    • Replies to Kevin Bealm>

      Comment by Steve MoD posted on

      I can only agree. As a member of a non-standard occupational group (a healthcare professional), I was baffled to say the least by the outcome of my using the Learning Assessment Tool. Its total irrelevance to my actual situation is hard to overstate. The civil service is a large and diverse organisation. Perhaps the third of civil servants who have not completed it, like me, fall outside the broader banded/skill zone grades. If they are thinking of doing it, I can only suggest that they don't waste their time.

    • Replies to Kevin Bealm>

      Comment by Jerry Arnott- Director of Civil Service Learning posted on

      ‘Your guide to priority learning’ sets out the learning available in project delivery, commercial skills, digital and change leadership- all of which are skills which every civil servant needs to some degree. These aforementioned skills are addressing the capability plan and are the corporate priorities for the Civil Service as a whole to ensure we continue to provide services which meet citizen’s needs today and tomorrow. Alongside these, it is fully expected that individual civil servants will have specific development needs related to their particular roles. There is a model in place on our portal that allows our users to specify learning by grade and competency ( as well as by their profession ( Learning to address these more specific needs remains the responsibility of your department and local management. When planning how to use your five days a year, try to make sure you combine the corporate learning priorities with those related to your specific role.

  21. Comment by Andy Cockerell posted on

    The PMR process - let's say 300, 000 civil servants spend just one day in the year focussing on this. That equals almost 1400 staff years. How is the aspirational "improvement in performance" actually going to measured against the effort put into the process? If CS Reform is serious about efficiency and targetting resources effectively then the unwieldly, over processed & already proven not to work in other sectors PMR system should be stripped right back. In my bit of HMRC, we've alreday spent at least 2 days each just gettng to the mid year part of the process!

  22. Comment by Rob Milligan posted on

    I have to agree with Paul & Gary, too often 'high flyers' arrive, set in motion the wheels of change with little regard to the long term implications of these changes, and then move on to 'bigger & better things' with a big box ticked on their CV. All of this occurs before the full implications of what they have done are realised. Months/Years later the remaining, grass roots staff are still picking uop the pieces.
    HMRC no longer has any sense of 'The Team', it is undermined at all levels by individuals with only their own interests at heart.

  23. Comment by Fran posted on

    Dear Bob, I have worked in the Civil Service for over 25 years, and seen numerous changes. Sometimes it feels like change for change sake! In DfT, we have "New ways of working", basically hot desking with a ratio of desks to people that mean a lot of the time you can't sit with your team (even if you are working on a project). The office now looks and feels like a call centre with people squeezed into small desks in long rows. It is much noisier than before, and this can be distracting when dealing with complex subject areas. DfT must be aware of how we all feel, as they sent around a link to documents on how to deal with stress! This is definitely not an "improvement" to working conditions, and will probably have a detrimental effect on our output.

  24. Comment by John Davies posted on

    I am currently staring down the barrel of a ‘Needs Improvement’ marking.
    Whilst I have never been a high flyer, after nearly 44 years in the job (Inland Revenue and HMRC) I now find that actually doing the job (exceeding KPIs and quality targets) is just not enough for even an ‘Achieved’.

    I have always been proud to be a member of the Civil Service and the Inland Revenue (HMRC) and have never been afraid to support those organisations in public and with colleagues but I now feel unwanted and under valued.
    I am told that to demonstrate the right ‘behaviours I need to volunteer for focus groups represent my team at meetings and similar. Why can’t these opportunities be left to those with career aspirations?

    I am 63, within 2 years of retirement, and have always enjoyed working in HMRC (especially since I took partial retirement) but now I enter the office with a depressed heart as a result of the way I feel I am being viewed, as not ‘pulling my weight’.

    • Replies to John Davies>

      Comment by Cheryl posted on

      It makes me wonder about the civil service - private sector employers are encouraged to employ people with disabilities, and rightly so, yet some people with disabilities and health conditions who work in DWP are apparently not wanted, with the programme of staff cuts going through now. If someone has a disability which prevents them from physically or mentally doing a certain job, then learning and development courses cannot suddenly make their disability disappear. The hint is in the word "disability". Perhaps senior management should go on a course to help them understand disabilities. The DWP has had a previous good record of employing people with disabilities - they should be showing a good example of how an employer should behave - not try to hound people out of the department because they do not fit in with their "vision". For example, there are many staff who are unable to deal with the public face to face, due to disability or health conditions. A lot have worked for the department for a great number of years, yet they are not wanted now - there are no back room jobs. So are we to assume that the DWP does not have to employ people with disabilities who are unable to do a front facing role - is this legal? And what will happen to those in the service now, who are unable to do a front facing role?

  25. Comment by Ev posted on

    Just a warning and reminder that the public sector and private sector are different. As we strive to be more like the private sector we must remember that it is driven by money and making profits. We should focus on delivery and ensuring a good quality, happy workforce with an emphasis on excellent managers who get the most out of their staff

  26. Comment by Vince Brownridge posted on

    Over the last 5 years when asked on the staff survey 'Overall I have confidance in the decisions made by Senior Managers(SCS)' in DWP only 20% of respondants gave a positive answer and most year it was considerably ess than that. When the reputation of Senior Civil Servants is so poor in their own departments, an external PR exercise would be yet another waste of public money

  27. Comment by Philip Purdy posted on

    With regards to the statement on the Civil Service Quarterly (CSQ) less bowler hat. more body armour which reads.Did you know there are civil servants on the front line in Afghanistan?. I was under the impression thart the front line was with the actual troops facing the Taliban and the insurgents head on. The only civil servants I have heard of in Afghanistan are in the main compound in Kabul. I would not call that the front line.

    • Replies to Philip Purdy>

      Comment by Steve Padfield posted on

      My daughter is a civil servant with MOD and served a tour in Lash Kagah wearing body armour and helmet moving about outside. She had to wear it when walking from her accomodation ( Tent) to the mess (Tent). IED were regularly thrown over the fence... so whilst she was not in a direct combat role she was definately in the front line. I worrk for AHVLA and our field staff are also in the front line fighting animal disease 24/7 in the mud on farm in all weathers and often faced with angry potentially violent not all Civil servants sit in offices and some are in harms way regularly.

  28. Comment by Steve Richardson posted on

    Bob, Whilst I admire and respect your vision and enthusiasm, many of us are tired and beaten down by constant attempts by our masters in power to denigrate and in some cases remove CS departments. I work for the Health and Safety Executive, the "monster" described by the PM. Many of my colleagues work extremely hard and I see the frustrution on their faces when we are hampered by the systems and processes brought in by an unknowing and uncaring management. We know have an organisation that has to follow proceedures and policies which add no value to the service we provide to the public, yet often hamper and impede our work. We are judged mainly on quantative results, and inspectors are increasingly under pressure to generate revenue rather than improve Health and Safety in the workplace. Our pay and pension have been seriously eroded and we are being asked to do more with less, by a more and more remote and out of touch management. The service we provide to the public has become more and more based on cost, with little thought given to educating and improving the management of health and safety in small companies. When you have worked a 60 hour week investigating a fatal accident as I have, then find that you have people on your back regarding spelling mistakes in computer records you tend to lose heart and become disillusioned.

  29. Comment by Matt posted on

    In the smaller Agencies, such as the one I work at with about 70 staff, the alleged 'quotas' for "Guided Distribution" on the Performance Development System are surely a joke. What the "Guidance" says is that, in effect, somewhere between seven and eleven staff at the Agency *may* receive a "Must Improve* performance rating. However, I am heartened to learn that the CEO of the Agency is prepared to stand up and say "None of my staff are under-performing - the Performance Ratings are what they are." As the whole Agency is in the business of measurement, with many staff having an excellent understanding of statistical methods, this isn't really surprising.

    As another "however", it is also difficult to engage with a new system that we knew very little about until this month - and there is much uncertainty over the future of jobs for some of the staff - which is, naturally, demotivating.

    Lastly, the system is inconsistent - If line managers give their staff a "Must Improve" rating, that shows that they are also not doing at least part of *their* job effectively!

  30. Comment by MAMTA BRAIN posted on

    Dear Sir Bob,

    I may be in the minority but in my 18 years in the have encountered some of the most difficult and downright unacceptable behaviours that make me sad when I compare them to our core Civil service values. The reasons are many and varied and I could write an essay on them, but i would be afraid as every time I have spoken up honestly has been met with bad consequences. The positive is that my faith in good civil servants is reinforced by development from them as they reflect and uphold our values. (not just ticking a comptency matrix)

    Kind regards


  31. Comment by Craig posted on

    Bob, In order to build a future CS which strives to be "more open, skilled and unified with the capability to really deliver" then perhaps it would be a good idea NOT to roll out a management reporting system (PMR) which assumes 10% of its workforce are incompetent, less effective and not fit for purpose before the reporting year has began.....It is my understanding that once the horse trading begins at the mid -year point, managers compare staff to other similar grades and a league table is created. Therefore, rather than encourage team working and sharing of new ways of working with colleagues, it actually discourages it, as you have to ensure you are better than the person sitting next to you to ensure you do not fall into the bottom 10%. As a colleague put it to me the other day..........."you could run your personal best and exceed your PMR objectivies during the reporting year........but could still finish last".

    • Replies to Craig>

      Comment by Andy posted on

      Craig - that's just what Microsoft found. Each year, the "90%" lived in fear of being placed in the "10%" which stifled creativity and teamwork!

      • Replies to Andy>

        Comment by S.B. posted on

        The ancient Roman armies had a system like this, they called it decimation. Except the soldiers were only decimated when they failed to win, we get it no matter how well we succeed.

  32. Comment by Chris posted on

    You talk about the future Civil Service, but how on earth do you ever think you can achive this unless you bring the front line staff with you, the comments made so far reflect this well.
    Reporting systems - I am in HMPO (the poor relation of the Home Office) and we are in year two of PDR's - We were being advised that guidance on completion would be given in the month they were due for interim reports and different parts of business get different instructions - how on earth can you look to unify reporting when a single department allows different parts to make their own rules. The reason of course is the new PDR's are even more bureaucratic than any of the systems which went before and rather than admit they are not fit for purposes, senior management in HR are trying to tinker with it to make it works - please tell them to forget it, get a blank sheet of paper and start again because the reporting system is nothing but time consuming, demotivating and divisive.
    Pay - The government keep going on about Civil Servants gold plated pensions, they keep telling people how important pensions are. When grade maximums have been effectively frozen for 9 years and progression slowed to a snails pace, it seems in respect of pay and pensions we are in a race to the bottom.
    IT - How can we possibly look to the future when we are still saddled with Internet Explorer 6 as browser on a lot of the estate. When we upgrade office we move to 2007 version, already replaced twice by Microsoft. We have under specified workstations which we pay suppliers too much money for maintaining and we are at the mercy of suppliers when anything has to be changed.
    Believe it or not I do like my job and I do like my direct managers but I have no faith in the senior civil service. Every year we do people surveys and I am frankly embarrassed when SCS are excited by scores above 50%, surely you should be looking for 90%+ engagement with staff.

  33. Comment by Glenda Brqaybrook posted on

    I totally welcome the push for us all to take up our 5 training days per year and have looked once again at the Civil Service Learning information to see if there has been a change in emphasis on what I consider to be the one core skill that everyone should possess - communication. Other than the digital learning, there still does not appear to be anything that will help Civil Servants with this important enabler skill. Without the ability to communicate effectively with one another across the whole of the Civil Service all of the other skill sets and learning has the potential to be totally wasted. As a communication professional with more years experience than I care to divulge, can I please ask that more emphasis is made on communication. Our change agenda will be achieved much easier if we have a Civil Service that has the ability (and willingness) to communicate.

    • Replies to Glenda Brqaybrook>

      Comment by Jerry Arnott- Director of Civil Service Learning posted on

      I agree that communications skills are vitally important for the Civil Service and there are over 500 face-to-face and 187 e-learning courses on the CSL site, ranging from ‘Effective communication’ to ‘Performance management’. These included workplace learning resources, e-learning and face-to-face courses, as well as more specialist programmes for communications professionals. For more information, specifically for communication professionals, may I recommend visiting the Communication Professions page ( For those outside the profession please use the advanced search engine on the portal ( so you can target the communications learning you need by your profession, grade and competency.

  34. Comment by Stephen posted on

    I am sorry but after 31 years as a lion led by numerous donkeys the increasingly out of touch corporate buzzword gobbledegook spouting blue sky thinking incompetents in charge of our department need a reality check. Not looking forward to my final 12 years of austerity and PMR pacesettered misery.

  35. Comment by Bob Kerslake posted on

    Thank you all for your comments. I wish I could reply to you all individually, but it’s fantastic to see so many of you sharing your thoughts, concerns and ideas. I’d just like to take the opportunity to quickly draw on a few themes that several of you have raised.

    On the point about visibility, this is something I think is really important. I spend two or more Fridays a month visiting civil servants across the UK and it’s one of the highlights of my job. Having the opportunity to hear from civil servants first hand is the best way to come to understand the issues and challenges facing colleagues around the country, and with 83% of civil servants now based outside of London this has never been more important.

    Someone also asked about access to Learning and Development tools and our five days’ learning and development per year – this is the entitlement of every civil servant and I would encourage you to each talk to your line manager (if you haven’t done so already) about your own development plan. In terms of exploring the resources available, the best place to start is the priority learning guide ( which will sign post you to the key learning opportunities in the four priority areas. If you can’t find what you’re looking for the Civil Service Learning website has a much wider range of courses.

    I am also glad that someone picked up on the point about positive PR. I think this is where creating a future vision for the Civil Service really comes into its own – if we know what we want to achieve and the kinds of values and behaviours we want to embed in our organisation, then I think that gives us something really positive to aspire towards.

    I’m really keen to hear your thoughts on this point in particular – what do you think our organisation does well? What are the traits that we could do with losing?

    • Replies to Bob Kerslake>

      Comment by Chris RPA posted on

      Discussed and applied for training for 2 years now. Team manger unable to advise as he is waiting to hear when it will be available. Please, it is not just talking to your team manager he is unable to progress matters any further, it is about senoir managers making sure that training is available and being undertaken.

    • Replies to Bob Kerslake>

      Comment by Syl posted on

      Mr Kerslake, Did you not notice the comments regarding the ridiculous performance management system. Can you comment on the 25% good performers; 65% satisfactory and the 10% that will be removed from the civil service under the rapid exit just introduced because they are deemed to be underperforming.... I was quite amazed that I received my mid year box marking before I had even had my mid year review, How can the mark be accurate with no supporting evidence?

  36. Comment by Lynda Jarrold posted on

    I would happily complete the Assessment to determine if specific training would be of benefit and discuss this with my CoC to, if necessary, improve performance. However, my last Line Manager was posted in February and no replacement has been allocated despite repeated queries about this issue. An email query to PPA more or less elicited the response that this was nothing to do with them and I should raise the matter with Line Management! It appears that Civil Servants at the top of the tree like producing policies but do not actually want the responsibility of managing or mentoring their subordinates.

  37. Comment by Wendy posted on

    Dear Bob
    I've just read your blog and the comments from CS colleagues in the front line of delivering a service to the public. What a picture of an exhausted, demoralised and unhappy body of people. Do any of our leaders actually see this? Will you read these comments and be concerned that the Civil Service Reform isn't producing a better CS, it's producing an injured and maimed creature that won't be able to do the job it's supposed to. Is that the point though? Cut us to the bone, rubbish us in the press, steal our benefits and then flog us off to the private sector.
    If that isn't the plan (and a stupid and short-sighted plan it would be), might I suggest that our leaders come down from their ivory towers and start actually listening to us? See how the cuts have meant backlogs and poor service; see how much tax is uncollected and unchallenged because we don't have the resources; see how DWP staff are forced to sanction claimants to save money; see what an utter mess CSR is creating. We should be proud of our civil service for the outstanding, impartial and reliable service it provides. Departmental heads should be fighting for us not complying to unfeasible spending targets.
    I've spent more than thirty years in the civil service, I was always proud of my job. Not any more. Now I'm being made to feel foolish for being here, foolish for being trested this way and foolish for believing that public service is something to treasure.

    Probably just wasted my time writing this too

  38. Comment by David Hill posted on

    You would think that tell me that there are civil servants working on the front line in afghanastan would shock me, but i'm not suprised. As working for the government gives you the urge to kill. I havn't read your blog propulary but with all the stat's we have to keep to justify how we are going to do our job. Do you really think we have time to take 5 day's learning a year, when as soon as we come into work we are pushed for stats and set unrealistic targets. Especially without information being divulged properly or at all. And as for the PMR's don't get me started, i think it is completly wrong how they can say right your going to have 20% top box marking 10 % needs improvement, because managers are looking to fill their quota to get themselves a tick in the box for their PMR's and situations are engineered for them to gather evidence. And memebers of staff are stabbing each other in the back to get themselves eveidence for their PMR's. Not working as a team or having a happy team ethos is it? Basically anyone who speaks up and has a different point of view will be marked down as needs improvement. As these new PMR's give the manager's the opinion of "what i say goes" 80's style management all over again. Regards David

  39. Comment by Margaret posted on

    Having been a Cilvil Servant for almost 30 years I have seen a number of changes and not all for the better. Changes in systems have not always worked, the "ground floor" staff need to be consultated regarding what is needed to make our computer systems more effective before new systems are introduced. Time and time again our systems let us down, if we do not have the correct tools to do the job how can we be effective?

    The reporting system has changed a number of times over the years and it still isn't a fair system in my opinion. Despite what is said developemental opportunities are not open to everyone. The staffing levels have decreased substantially but our work load increases, most of us can only strive to do a good job on a daily basis knowing that come report time we will be in the majority marking category no matter how committed we are to our work. Lack of opportunity and time prevents a lot of us from achieving a higher marking.

    I agree with a previous comment made, senior staff are only visible come Staff Survey time, they do not see or hear what front line staff, (and no doubt other staff) have to contend with on a daily basis. Certainly in my field of work we deal with verbal abuse daily, we are untrained counsellors giving financial and relationship advice whilst trying to get "more money for more children"

  40. Comment by John posted on

    These 5 days for Civil Service learning a year sound great, but unfortunatley I work in Bathgate Contact centre and we have been told that these 5 days dont cover contact centres. Dont know if this is true or if it is just Bathgate making up their own rules, I questioned this and was passed to the deputy CCM weeks ago and had no reply!!

    • Replies to John>

      Comment by Jerry Arnott- Director of Civil Service Learning posted on

      The entitlement to five day’s learning and development a year applies to all civil servants. For staff in contact centres, it means more planning and careful time management to ensure everyone can undertake training. Managers are however expected to actively support their staff in getting the development they need in line with the five a year entitlement. A recent introduction on the CSL portal allows you to filter searches for different learning by duration- so if you only have 15 or 30 minutes allocated for a training session, you can easily identify which learning can fit into the time you have available. All CSL’s e-learning can be accessed remotely from your mobile phone or tablet, so once you have registered first time, you don’t need a computer to learn.

  41. Comment by Louise posted on

    I agree with the comment about a positive PR campaign. It is demoralising to constantly read negative stories in the papers about civil servants, particularly those suggesting we get massive bonuses or can claim for laddered tights. They are not an accurate reflection of what we do or of the majority of people who work in the civil service. It's too easy for the papers to print stories because they know we won't fight back. The government also publish reports on how badly the civil service works and how they are reducing this or that, and Ministers' perceptions of us just trying to hinder them is unhelpful. I agree changes are needed, but the language and approach needs to be carefully thought about. All of this links to why people can be reticient to say they are a civl servant; it's hard to be proud of what you do when it's constantly attacked by the media or by those who you are trying to serve.

  42. Comment by Geoff Ferguson posted on

    thanks for the info bob. you must be the only one who thinks the civil service is a good place to work, as for me i am a shift worker, keeping the dockyard open 24 hours a day seven days a week fiftytwo weeks a year. for the last three years, we have been shorthanded, yet we are still expected to keep the port open, our pay has effectively been cut, our terms and conditions decimated, and more attacks from the government are in the pipeline, yet you still expect more.
    if this is a joke , then i'm not laughing

    • Replies to Geoff Ferguson>

      Comment by Brendan Shakeshaft posted on

      Well said, Geoff.

  43. Comment by Janet posted on

    Dear Sir Bob

    What our organisation does well is help people, in spite of recent reforms making it more difficult for us. In DWP we help people who are at the very bottom of the pile and we do it magnificently.

    The traits we could do with losing are this management fixation on targets, which continues despite denials to PAC by SCS that there were any targets to being with. The worst example of targets having a negative effect is in the NHS. The had a target of seeing Outpatients within half an hour of their arrival, and they did this by having a nurse weigh you or take your blood pressure. Then you waited another 2 hours to see the consultant - but the target box was ticked so that was fine.

  44. Comment by Alan posted on

    Sadly it seems Sir Bob chooses only to comment on the themes that are of interest to him and ignore those that are of most importance to his staff. How about a comment on your staffs negative view of the new PMR process which is proving to be yet another morale shattering initiative. When will our senior leaders comment on how the anticipated drop in production due to the 5 days learning is preventing managers from enabling staff to do any training but that classed as mandatory for fear the PQR targets are not met. When are senior leaders going to listen to the views of staff who don’t want (or require) 5 days training per year and don’t want to attend daily board meetings or sit on focus groups but want to be left to get on with giving customers a response to their enquiries.
    How about senior managers showing their support by defending the views of their staff that we have paid our fair share towards the financial crisis when the Chancellor proposes yet another pay freeze or almost as bad a pay increase of a miserly 1%.
    When will we hear opposition from our senior managers to changes to our Terms and Conditions or will it go unchallenged when the Cabinet Secretary imposes a further increase in pension contributions in April 2014 that completely erode the benefits of the increases to the PAYE free pay threshold introduced over recent years.
    Or should we wait for the usual senior managers commenting that they are listening when the results of this years staff survey become known.

  45. Comment by Brendan Shakeshaft posted on

    I am afraid that there is now no difference between civil service departments, therefore no identity, and, as far as I'm concerned no pride in the department I work for. I worked for HM Customs and Excise from 1974 until it was subsumed into the Inland Revenue in 2005, and re-badged as HMRC. I took tremendous pride in the work that I undertook in HMC&E, especially in the war on drugs (which, unfortunately, no-one is now doing). The work HMC&E undertook for over 300 years has completely disappeared, as we are now being turned into grey, faceless, bland civil servants, with individuality being stamped out, larhely using the new, generic PMR system. I only have a few years to go, and cannot wait until my retirement.

  46. Comment by Gordon Rose posted on

    Bob, itwas heartwarming to read that you had replied to the comments left for you at this site - except that you completely disregarded those comments about the new PMR. I have to say that I am disappointed - to put it politely! It's clear from the number of comments posted that there is much opposition to this new system - rightly so - and your lack of reply makes me think that there is truth in the feeling that there is some underworked Civil Servant, somewhere in ther Organisation whose sole reason for being is to ANNUALLY re-invent the Performance Management System to justify his salary. Really, the system changes EVERY year - and this change is the worst IN YEARS!! Please get it changed back to what it was - IT WORKED and was FAIR.
    Can we please have your comments on this system? Do you think it works??

  47. Comment by Linda Tuplin posted on

    After reading civil service bulletin No. 3, Sir Bob Kerslake a guide to make us exceptional. I tried to click on the discover the new learning link.
    Only to find access to this website blocked by DWP s internet filtering software. reported and recorded as forbidden due to "streaming media" What hope do we have if we are not able to access sites being promoted??

  48. Comment by Paul posted on

    “there are things that we perhaps haven’t spent enough time thinking about – for me, the principal example is…”

    Well , for me, it’s the fact that all our roles are undertaken by living, breathing human beings with hopes, fears and feelings.

    Imagine Bob …

    Every day you come into work in Jobcentreplus and , from the opening of the office doors to the closing of the office doors , 5 days a week , for years you perform five minute “interventions” with customers in a packed office full of angry, pacing people. Day after day, year after year you police their jobsearch , driven (by Management) to look for the negative.

    Imagine Bob…

    Some of these people have their benefit stopped and perceive (rightly or wrongly – it makes no difference in the end) this to be your fault. You don’t go into town at the weekend anymore ; you don’t want your children to see you abused and sworn at in the street. You don’t go to your local pub anymore ; you don’t want to meet them when they’re full of alcohol and angry. You sneak into your house quickly , like a fugitive, when you get home at night ; the man two doors down hates you now because of what you “did to him” at work. You dread that he might be there at the bus stop when you go to work in the morning.

    Imagine Bob…

    For the last fifteen years (boom or bust) your pay has been cut in real terms and you’re getting into “heat or eat” territory now. Your pension is “reformed” your redundancy terms are “reformed”. Even your 3:42 Christmas flexi credit is gone.

    Imagine Bob…

    For reasons you still don’t really understand (politics ?) after years of loyal trouble free service, suddenly you “must improve”

    What a vast yawning chasm exists between your bright shiny world and ours.

    “Leave” you say ?

    No. We are in public service because we actually truly believe in it and see its value. Why should we go and let the bad guys win ?

    • Replies to Paul>

      Comment by Moira posted on

      I have read this with a sinking heart. I have been a civil servant on and off for over 30 years, and it is this lack of humanity in a department which used to really have a customer focus that distresses me most. Digitalisation is being used as an excuse to eradicate the human touch which made our services so accessible and successful. Counting everything is now a substitute for real quality measurement. Reducing footfall has become a monster target with a life of it's own and no reality check to see whether this is actually an effective measure of anything in particular. If you shut and lock a door and close an office you achieve 100% reduction in footfall - but is that an achievement? Telephony and IT are not the answer to everything - and how many repeat calls, 'lost' information requiring a second claim or query do we generate as a result? I don't see any reports on these things, but I know from experience how often people have their lives terribly disrupted by avoidable 'errors on the system', and they and their families suffer very real distress as a result. I often wonder what the resulting cost is to the NHS is of these practises and behaviours as the stress levels amongst some benefit dependents is escalated on a daily basis. We are losing our compassion in our digital 'one size fits all' approach, and the notion of service is demeaned by the increasingly remote methods adopted to deliver so many of our 'reformed' services. The comments of many in this blog tell their own story of how this affects those who are striving to be the best in this increasinly faceless environment. I know that our systems work for some of the people some of the time - but the casualties seem to be rising, and that cannot be good.

  49. Comment by Katherine Kerswell posted on

    We can all recognise that we have some very difficult challenges ahead in trying to deliver reform to our services, our organisations and the way we work and do our jobs. Clearly for some people that has been personally very difficult and it is important that we acknowledge and respect that, which I know Bob does.

    Some of the concerns people are quoting in their responses are exactly the things we need to confront and tackle. No matter what type of organisation you work for, change is always tough to go through and we are no different. What is different about us, though, is the offer that Bob is genuinely making to us all, to be a part of designing our future.

    Like Bob, I meet and talk with civil servants from many different departments and see much that is truly exceptional. I also hear on a regular basis a strong desire to change how we work and real frustrations with some of our practice. I also see a great deal of the effort going in to changing services to deliver more effectively for our customers as well as managing staff in new ways so we can deliver at our best.

    I am really excited by the idea of a positive PR campaign for the civil service. The #CSuncovered programme has begun that work but there is so much more that each of us could bring to it to really shout from the rooftops about all that we do and the value we provide every single day right across our country. So how could we start that? We need to be clear about what is precious to us about our ways of working and our values. We need to be clear too about what is still relevant in our working practices that we must take with us and what has served us well (or not) but is no longer necessary?

    • Replies to Katherine Kerswell>

      Comment by Cathy Kelly posted on

      Ms Kerswell having read all the comments made i would have thought the cost of the positive PR campaign would be better spent on teaching SCS how to listen and respond rather than avoid uncomfortable truths. Yes change is difficult but has been generally accepted as the only way forward. The reporting system however does not have any "benefits realisation" for staff managing the reforms and is not fit for purpose. Who will be brave enough to come off message and start talking about this? Shout from the rooftops about how good we are? Ground level yes. Senior level?

    • Replies to Katherine Kerswell>

      Comment by Gareth posted on

      Katherine Kerswell said:
      "the offer that Bob is genuinely making to us all, to be a part of designing our future."

      With respect, the most high profile changes being made to the civil service do not support this.
      Pay is down, pensions are down, promotion opportunities are few and far between, our T&Cs have been reduced, our corporate support functions have been outsourced or reduced, performance management quotas are incredibly unpopular, and now pay progression - supposed to take us to the going rate for the job - is on its way out.

      If this is a future designed by civil servants, then it's no civil servant I've ever spoken to.

      • Replies to Gareth>

        Comment by Lesley Coulter posted on

        I agree with Gareth's comments. But just to add to that, I strongly believe we need to educate the public about how it "really" is to be a Civil Servant now. They all seem to think we have it "cushy", overpaid, underworked, etc. It's about time Bob and his team got things straight and updated the public and the press on "reality" in the small cogs of the CS mechanism. It's the least that can be done for us as there's nothing much else to offer us.

  50. Comment by Chris posted on

    Having read the comments in this blog, I read your own comments with some astonishment. Full of positive 'froth' and apparently disregarding entirely the almost unanimous negative and critical content of the comments. Do you think we won't notice that you simply fail to even try to respond?

    I work in HMRC, and despite everything still enjoy the actual work I do, achieving the purpose I thought we are here for of collecting revenue. However, the time I am able to do this seems to grow less all the time, with the plethora of administrative tasks, meetings etc etc which increase by the day, yet produce nothing (except a few box ticks and competency examples!)- and that's before we even get to the new performance management system - have you any idea at all of how much time this eats up & how little it achieves? We are told to relentlessly focus on results, yet almost every new wheeze that management comes up with reduces the time to do any work. As a taxpayer too, I find this incredible.

    HMRC has staff survey ratings of senior management which are so low over 5 years that they are (or should be) embarrassing. Yet nothing happens, no mistakes are acknowledged, no heads roll. We apparently move serenly from triumph to triumph and any problems are always put down to the staff on the ground failing to understand, and needing better 'communication' - no suggestion that what is being done, and communicated, is just hopeless.

    Our top managers just don't 'get it' - and sadly, seeing your response to all of this criticism, its not a surprise. Don't lets deal with the problem, lets ignore it and talk about something nice and positive - that'll fool em! No it won't, we have to deal with day to day reality so why on earth would we fall for the spin. Why do you think our responses are so negative? - ask around and I think you will find we feel pretty insulted that you seem to think might believe you. Read some Dilbert - he's got your number! Please don't take refuge in the easy fiction that we are just opposed to change - we're not, but we want something that looks like it might work, not just fashionable management fads.

  51. Comment by Neil Sutherland posted on

    I think we can all appreciate the need for positive communication about what the civil service does; why it is essential to the running of the country and to the working of the economy. So I've no argument with Bob or Katherine on that.

    Like others, though, I fear that the civil service is in danger of failing catastrophically before there's time to build recognition of our function, let alone reform our practices. There seems to be little or no recognition at the top of the financial hardship that civil servants and their families are experiencing; the effect of which is to narrow their focus to absolute essentials and inhibit their ability to embrace change.

  52. Comment by A Harrison posted on

    The changes for us at VOSA have managed to combine the worst of private sector ethos with the worst of the civil service, ie poor wages and bad working conditions the disincentive scheme is working well. The station closure program has left us isolated working in a sometimes hostile environment. Health and safety has been sacrificed in order to encourage the private sector to invest in an ATF. Our policies have remained fixed such that paperwork can only be sent to us via the "mother station" which is shut. And a recent new employee was sent by HR to the old closed station to be greeted by for sale signs. Senior management deal with these prolems by the old head sand technique which serves them well.
    As for E learning where do I start. It's boring and an insult to our inteligence. I did the "management continuity" recently I had no idea what this meant until I began the learning bit where I discovered it meant contingency planning. I got bored within two minutes and did the test where I got 100 %, and no I don't consider that congatulations are in order.

  53. Comment by Vic Shone posted on

    Im Happy in my Job !!!!! I make the job work in spite of problems that we all face. I am proud to be a Civil Servant. I have a smile for everyone.! Merry Christams. !!

  54. Comment by Rob posted on

    I once took pride knowing that I worked not only for the civil service, but for an organisation that was devout in the idea of development for staff.

    I started working within my department, in a call centre. It wasn't what I wanted to do, but it paid relateively well and I met some brilliant people. Through the ideaologies that were in place at the time, I was able to apply for a promotion into a team that I didn't have experience in, but I was able to demonstrate a strong apptitude for. I fear that this is no longer the case; in times of budget cuts, idiocratic red tape and stringent control over development your allowed to provide, who's going to take the gamble in developing a young person to be able to contribute based on apptitude instead of experience and pieces of paper?

    I appreciate that the costs of running the civil service needs to be reduced, and think it's a brilliant idea, but I think the cuts are being taken at the cost of the values that we apparently hold dear. if the current trends continue, then we no longer be able to call ourselves a diverse employer, and may start to lose our investment in people. We will instead be biding with the rest of the economy for the people that are already skilled, already qualified and already experienced instead of people knew to industries, out of college, or even new to the UK.

    Given that we are one of the biggest employers in the UK, and given the rising trends in unemployment especially amongst young people, should this not be something that is back on the agenda? If, as an organisation, we were able to create the opportunities for people wtih the apptitude to join the organisation the benefits would soon start to appear with new ways of looking at things and working - Generation Y would be a huge positive impact on the way we work, instead of at the moment, being lost to our competitors.

  55. Comment by Tony Kerner posted on

    I'd like to comment on this section: "...we must all deliver more for less. We need to make sure... that individuals are rewarded for what they deliver...." Really? As I sit here at the CSA, where we've all been told (yet again) to log out of the computer system as it's not working, with my newly-exchanged computer which stopped working (again), I can't imagine what any of this means. I receive emails from senior managers commenting on the voting system of a union not even connected to the civil service, hear about more focus groups being formed and get asked to join congratulations to promoted senior managers. I work hard and effectively and get paid as badly as the rest of the worker bees. I look forward to being rewarded for what I deliver

  56. Comment by Noel Sykes posted on

    Change is a threat to many people and comes with being a civil servant - oh and by the way it also comes with being a public servant, an employee in the private sector and self employed (I have been each of these). If the UK cannot afford the enormous machine that is called the CS then it has do to something about it - thats where Reform comes in. Yes almost all will be affected, some will see their work change and others will lose their jobs altogether - that is life I am afraid - I am a CS and I accept this. The PMR debate above misses a point I feel - the guided distribution aims to achieve what millions of management hours have faiiled to do so far - have a performance rated workforce whose scores more accurately reflect what you would expect to see - if it brings to a stop the cosy congratulatory 'avoiding the difficult' conversations and replaces these with properly objective and wider-and-forward-thinking debates between manager and staff then thats something we can all PR about down the pub - the taxpayer deserves to expect it. I enjoy being a CS and appreciate how fortunate I am being one.

  57. Comment by Chris Last posted on

    Reading through these comments, performance management appears to be a theme many of you have some questions about.

    Performance management was identified by the Government in the Civil Service Reform Plan as a key area for improvement we all want to see across the Civil Service with a focus on more conversations and fewer processes. The new performance management system helps individuals and managers identify development needs. It gives clear timeframes and guidance to support staff who are doing well and to address the needs of civil servants who are identified as underperforming.

    With the Capabilities Plan and the Competency Framework, we are all now better able to address capability and skills gaps identified across the Civil Service as well as managers’ and individuals’ development needs.

    Civil servants who have completed the Competency Framework Self-Assessment Tool can use it at their mid-year reviews to discuss their development areas and make a plan. We are all encouraged to use our five days a year on our personal development.

    Chris Last, Head of Civil Service HR

    • Replies to Chris Last>

      Comment by Steve Richardson posted on

      Chris, the framework is about as much use to me and my colleagues as a chocolate teapot! It has very little relevance to our job and managers cannot use it to identify areas we need to develop. As for performance management, we all see poor performers and want to see their issues addressed, but the system is flawed, rushed and biased. If you are in a simple, easily measured job where you can show quantative outputs you can easily attain a high marking and the as yet nebulous pay upgrade. If you, like many CS workers are employed on work which relies on outcomes rather than outputs, you have to fight to be recognised, and stay above the "must improves". The trouble is the system encourages line managers to compare employees and put them into "league tables" regardless of the quality of their work. Then there is the fact that senior managers are enforcing their own "must improve" quota, in our case 25-40%! Perhaps you would care to share with us how many of your staff you consider are "underperforming"?

    • Replies to Chris Last>

      Comment by Bert posted on

      Is that "Chris Last, Head of Civil Service HR"

      ... or ...

      "Chris, Last Head of Civil Service HR"

    • Replies to Chris Last>

      Comment by Andy posted on

      Chris - I don't disagree with the aspiration of performance m'ment. My problem is that I've seen nothing to convince me that the improvements will be realised for the huge amount of effort and time that is being put into it.

      We have people being told to stop fixing IT problems because they have to do a self-assessment - which is more important, putting our "customer at the heart of everything we do" or having highlly skilled, efficient technical people ponder for hours about how to write down what & how they've done something that is done evidently & obviously to a high standard for all to see? I go back to my earlier calculation - 300,
      000 CSs spending one day on PMR = 1400 staff years. Over a year it will be at least 4 times that amount - where's the best use of resources & efficiency in that?

    • Replies to Chris Last>

      Comment by Alan posted on

      Attending the 1st Leader Led Master Class; discussing performance requirements and personal development needs, together with providing support in the preparation of draft objectives with each of my 12 person team leading to each of them having an agreed PMR for 2013/2014; completing numerous 1:1 discussions with my team members since the start of the year; attending the 2nd Leader Led Master Class; participating in a consistency check meeting; carrying out 12 mid year performance reviews (including reviewing 12 Self Assessments); attending and participating at a validation meeting; 12 further meetings to confirm indicative performance rating; updating eHR to reflect those markings; phew here we are at the mid year point.

      Can you seriously be suggesting the new performance management system has fewer processes.

    • Replies to Chris Last>

      Comment by Matt posted on

      Chris Last writes "...We are all encouraged to use our five days a year on our personal development.".

      That sounds good, in principle - but, in practice, implementation is just paying lip service to the alleged 'commitment'. My own experience is that training opportunities other than those available "for free" on the CSL e-Learning site are denied, because there is no budget available.

      It's also proved to be the case that unless the training supports my own business unit, regardless of whether it would support my personal development for opportunities in the wider Civil Service, the applications for external training are denied. If someone else in my small Agency already has a particular qualification, then apparently there's no need to duplicate the skillset that comes from the learning. It's a narrow-minded view that is probably prevalent in smaller Agencies that operate in net running cost regimes, but I'm sorry to say that in this case, money doesn't talk.

  58. Comment by Neville FISHER posted on

    I am rather puzzled why the 'Guardian Public Leaders network' has many of the same articles but contains different comments. They should surely be merged.

    What is the point of having multiple sites. Is this attenuation?

  59. Comment by Nick posted on

    Despite the occasional shameful and transparent attempts at shilling, these comments really do reflect the low point that large part of the Civil Service feel they are at. Economic downturn or no, you simply cannot treat your public servants they way they've been treated in recent years and expect them to feel like an "indispensable asset to the government of the day" and to share Sir Bob's "passion".

  60. Comment by John Sims posted on

    Chris Last
    Please don't try to dress up reporting by quota as a good idea- It isn't!

    Totally agree with your points on the need to educate the public on what we do.
    I'm fed up with being told what a cushy job I have, and how overpaid I am by people who don't know any better. Most would probably laugh at what I earn after the last few years "pay increases".
    Unfortunately judging by the past lip service of senior management I doubt anything will be done about it, and morale will continue to fall.

    John Sims

  61. Comment by Malcolm Degroot posted on


    As a civil servant of over 30 years service it is refreshing see your almost evangelical desire to communicate with your employees across the Civil Service.

    It is a shame that you don't have the same zeal for talking with our national unions' representatives about the issues that matter to your employees most - pay, jobs, pensions and terms and conditions of employment - as reflected in many of comments left in this blog which you have conveniently ignored in you reply.

  62. Comment by Lucy posted on

    Dear Bob,
    As a member of Department for Work and Pensions staff involved in local contract management, one of the things which would most restore my confidence in the work of my department is a proper overhaul of the contracts we agree with our providers and the service we accept from them. I see countless examples of truly dreadful service to benefit claimants from training or support providers, which we have very little means of tackling. The contracts have no teeth and it is nearly impossible to enforce the required levels of service. If you wouldn't take poor-quality work from a tradesman working on your house why would you take it from a company like this? But we seem to have no option.

    I am passionate about supporting people into work, and I feel that some very valuable programmes are being undermined by the providers involved in delivering them. When are we going to see an improvement in this? When am I going to have access to training which would support me in the negotiations and management I am required to do? I am a generalist civil servant doing a rather specialised job, and there is literally no training available to support my work, nor any opportunity to learn from finance or project management specialists. It's very disappointing.

  63. Comment by Niall O'Grady posted on

    you want to educate the public?
    Lead from the Top,
    Go on Question Time & NewsNight and start telling Jo Public that the people who run the country, us Civil Servants, are paid just above NMW , have had pay freezes for the last 2 -3 years, and our pension scheme closed on us after 25 years in-scheme and countless other put-downs all because those MP's want to be seen to be "making something happen" .

  64. Comment by Mr T posted on

    Well having worked for 21 years in the CS, it's refreshing to see we're still getting squashed from the top, if you want a single unified quality civil service, you need to put your hand in your pocket and pay us. Civil servants on average earn less than the National average, it's things like this that “we…need a positive PR campaign to show the public what we do.” Not to be made to feel we're over paid scroungers.....time you started defending us and at least give us inflationary pay rises each year.

  65. Comment by Julia posted on

    I have to say I agree with almost every negative comment here and it is good to see people "telling it like it is" not the pussyfooting we get from some people. Regarding the performance appraisal system, imagine my surprise when I found out (retrospectively) I wasn't even in it last year! Despite filling in the forms and achieving a box 2, I got a pay rise less than that of a box 3 performer, 0.5% non consolidated into my pay. Why? Because I am at the top of my payscale. This is largely the result of Defra in the years BO (Before Osborne) making strenuous efforts through artificially boosted milestones and spine points to adjust the pay scale to force people up it quicker, I assume because 4 or 5 years ago it was considered the "rate for the job", I am now told I have been paid too much and am living in the belief that I will probably never get a pay rise again. You can imagine what this has done for my general morale and my willingness to engage in any performance system of any kind. What has happened to turn the "rate for the job" 5 years ago into "overpaid and must wait till everyone else catches up" today? I am actually taking home £15 a month less than I was nearly 5 years ago following the freeze and the pension increases. This is the pension I was told was the reward for loyally working for the CS for x number of years at BELOW private sector rates of pay. I've been told this for 25 years before the gold plated rubbish started coming in and it will take another 25 years before I believe anything different. The gold plating is certainly wearing off now. My only remaining hope is that I will qualify for a package sooner rather than later as I believe the "new" Civil Service is somewhere where I am not going to want to be. But sadly I can't afford to leave without one or I would. At the moment management are stuck with me and the motivational black hole I carry about with me. However, with these pay rates and increasing living standards I wonder how long it will be before I have to consider whether I can afford to stay!

  66. Comment by Sandra posted on

    I am completely puzzled by the performance management system, which no one seems to like, is unduly onerous, and which doesn't appear to deliver any useful information. Other than (perhaps) for data analysis purposes.

    The competency framework is achingly dull to operate with its endless, generic descriptors...and the end result is almost entirely meaningless. I can remember when performance reviews were made up of about 5 simple descriptors for which you received some sort of grade, followed by a brief pen picture. Something like: analysis and judgment, drive and determination, team working, communication, management. Followed by an overall marking where you were expected to include comment on the manner in which the person worked (friendly, helpful etc). Then a final marking, supported by comments, as to whether the person was suitable for promotion. You could read someone's report and decide whether you'd like to work with them. As far as I have been able to establish from talking to friends, the private sector operate similar, straightforward systems.

    How did our appraisal processes become so irrelevant? Ironically, I suspect, it was sold to us at some point by that breed of management consultants who were once (still?) so adept at milking the public sector.

    We seem ever hungry to "learn" from the private sector, and yet so many of our problems stem from our buying into management processes and tools which were at best designed for the simplicity of industry, but crudely and inappropriately adapted for complex, legally framed, functions of government.

    • Replies to Sandra>

      Comment by Bob Kerslake posted on

      Thank you all for your comments – I’ve read through them all and it’s very clear to me that Performance Management is an issue that many people feel particularly strongly about. Rather than responding to one or two comments on here and not fully addressing the concerns raised, I will be blogging about this issue early next week.

      I look forward to hearing from you in the comments section of that blog, and I hope it generates as much discussion as this one did.


  67. Comment by John D posted on

    Dear Bob, the way your reply refused to address the many valid concerns and criticisms that people have raised shows that you, like the rest of the SCS, have no interest in our comments except when they fit in with your 'message'.

  68. Comment by Chris posted on

    I am genuinely fascinated. Last week I left a comment on this blog which was in essence, critical of Sir Bob's failure to even acknowledge the many negative comments previously left, and which suggested that this airbrushing of anything off message out of the picture was a significant factor in the very poor view we have of the way we are being led.

    The comment sat for quite a while 'awaiting moderation', and has now been deleted. While critical, the comment was polite and did reflect the views of many of my colleagues. I had imagined that only offensive comments would be filtered out, but apparently not so. I would really like to know the reason for excluding such views fropm this debate, but in the meantime I'm afraid that my existing views are merely reinforced.

  69. Comment by Sarah posted on

    What more can I say - i think that everyone on here has hit the nail on the head. Staff are totally demoralised and feel that the light has been turned off at the end of the tunnel. None of my friends can believe how little I earn for the job I do and because of the recent pay freezes despite 4 years experience at my grade someone newly promoted will earn the same as me - how can this be right? I do enjoy my job but I don't know how much longer I can afford to carry on doing the job I do - for the sake of my health and sanity, not just my bank balance!! Finally - will senior managers just answer the questions asked of them - not say stock phrases which just irritate people even more.

    • Replies to Sarah>

      Comment by David Smith posted on

      Agree with Sarah, the responses from management completly failed to address the issues raised

  70. Comment by malcolm wynn posted on

    paid just above the minimum wage, and you expect staff to be proud to work for the civil service, get real. the lowest paid grades see there living standards fall year on year. proud, i think ashamed is the correct term.

  71. Comment by Chris B posted on

    I too have a comment moderated out. Yes I was critical of the SCS, yes I was critical of the current government's approach to the public sector. Resentment at how civil service and other public sector employees are being treated is high throughout the entire public sector, and we all know who is to blame.

  72. Comment by Carol posted on

    I couldn't agree more. I was part of a huge recruitment drive about 8 years ago to the Contact Centre in HMRC and part of the package offered was pay progression. Despite have a 'good' marking every year I earn £230 more than the very bottom of the AO payscale along with many others. In the last few years a number of AAs have been promoted and now earn more than the rest of us as they were on their max and were entitled to a minimum increase despite having absoutely no experience in the role.
    I am also at a loss as to the limited response from senior management.
    I believe they have undoubtedly been kept in the dark by people reporting to them whose self interest has prevented them from delivering bad news but there's really no excuse now that the issues are in black and white from such a wide variety of sources.

  73. Comment by Bert posted on

    Here at VOSA (or whatever the new name is) we have not had pay rise since 2008.
    They have closed our test stations and we now have to travel to ATFs all over the country doing 100s of miles each week. But now under the new CS contract they are going to stop paying us for travel and reduce our overtime pay.
    So worse working conditions and less money.
    How's my morale? Low mate that's what it is.

  74. Comment by Ed posted on

    Sir Bob - There's a bit of irony in the fact that one of the functions of the Unions used to be to provide this challenge to make things better, and help uncover any (thankfully rare) ineptitude and wrongdoing at senior levels. However, as Unions have been severely curtailed, the burden of this work now falls on the organisation itself - not only have we lost a useful knowledge-sharing connection across different departments and agencies etc., but we've also lost the "check and challenge" element which was being provided at an extremely low cost, and with masses of other benefits to the CS and to individuals as well.
    If you really want to nurture diversity, remove barriers to productivity, increase interdepartmental knowledge exchange and support staff, use the Unions to the best effect!

  75. Comment by Martin posted on

    Reform so far does not seem to be working. The changes to the competency framework are a complete waste of money. You cannot judge every job by 10 basic traits. When working on my competencies I often found one example could be slightly re-worded to answer 3-4 of the competencies.

    You all need to look at the Fast Stream recruitment process and the type of candidates to see why there is a problem with leadership in the civil service. The is very little diversity in the background of the people applying for the scheme. The recruitment process only accepts people who think and act the same. There is very little scope for creativity; the Constructive Thinking exercises are formalaic, you can churn out enough ideas rehashing reward, punish, promote and technolgy.

  76. Comment by Mike posted on

    I've been waiting for details of my new job since April when ESA WCA appeals work went to CCD (and has now magically moved on again). I wonder what i will be judged on at the end of my reporting year as i'm currently scratching around for work until someone gets around to informing me whats happening. There are too many short term fix decisions made without any notion of what the knock on effect will be. Despite several good reports i'm still only £300 over band minimum after 6 years and i'm still expected to be motivated by performance and rewards- astonishing!

  77. Comment by Kathie Bates posted on

    Having been a Civil Servant for 25 years I read these comments with interest - having lived in the 'real world' and experienced many of the things collegues mention. As head of CS Local North West I was proud to host Sir Bob's visit and for the 1st time in many years feel I'm doing a job, which might....just might change the Civil Service in the way Sir Bob describes. But it's down to us to take back control and show despite all the reasons why not and the rules that say no....we ordinary folk can do this. If your interested in investing your energies in trying to change things for the better and want to give it a go....then come and join me and an ever growing group of Civil Servants from across the NW who are going to give this reform stuff their best shot! Check out the CS Local website for more details.

  78. Comment by Carol posted on

    Bob. You promised on 08/11/13 that you would blogging early last week. You have failed to do so.
    I don't think many CSs would survive in their jobs for very long if we missed deadlines and we don't have the luxury of setting the deadlines ourselves.
    Are there any jobs going in Damage Limitation, please?

    • Replies to Carol>

      Comment by David posted on

      Carol - If it helps I think you'll find Bob's other blog regarding the PMR system at the top of this page, right hand side, entled A Look At The Performance Management System.

  79. Comment by George posted on

    What we need is a Public Service that provides service to the public, that recognises that we have certain items with the public sphere eg. security, tax collection, health that must be delivered to the public as a whole and which upholds traditional public service values. This must be the guiding vision and all decisions must flow from it. All public servants should belive innthis vision and be proud of these values, it should mark them apart. Skills must be about how this is best delivered. Their must be a Public Service way that values everyone and puts the needs of the public first, rather than protecting the institution, the image or the tradition. We are not against change, only change for the worst.

  80. Comment by Karen posted on

    A question for the Reform team & Bob...I've been invited to an interview for a post on loan from the MOD to the MOJ - great news for me until I'm told that neither the interchange host (MOJ) or my current employer (MOD) will pay for the rail ticket to London, as it's not official business. So I have to pay >£50 for my rail ticket and take a day's holiday for the priviledge. Do you think this is fair? I want to transfer my skills as a Lean Practitioner to OGDs but not if it costs me (personally) to deliver the output.