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My highlights from Civil Service Live, Bristol

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

I had a fantastic day at Civil Service Live in Bristol on Wednesday. If you are not aware of it, Civil Service Live is a learning event for Civil Servants and this year the sessions will be centred on four themes, all of which are vital if we are to continue on our path of Civil Service Reform.

The themes this year are:

  • What we need to do to become a modern Civil Service
  • What skills we need for the future
  • How we can work smarter
  • What it takes to become an inspirational leader

Some of my highlights from the day included making a pledge for the pledge wall and visiting the Reservist and GDS stands.

The Pledge Wall

Something that particularly caught my eye was the pledge wall. Delegates were asked to pledge to take action in one of the four priority areas in the Capabilities Plan. I pledged to see more Civil Servants on visits. For those of you who were in Bristol; what did you pledge?

Richard Heaton, Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office, at the Pledge Wall at Civil Service Live Bristol
Richard Heaton, Permanent Secretary for the Cabinet Office, at the Pledge Wall


While I was exploring the exhibition space I managed to meet with some Civil Service Reservists. It was great to hear about the fantastic work they are doing and I heard how they were able to benefit from world class training and develop transferable skills in areas like leadership, team work and crises management. These are the exact skills we need in order to become a modern Civil Service.

Visiting the Reservist Stand at Civil Service Live, Bristol
Visiting the Reservist Stand at Civil Service Live, Bristol


I also went to the GDS stand where I heard lots of great examples of how the Government is becoming more digital. GDS are helping Government departments to redesign and rebuild 25 major Government services to make them simpler, clearer and faster to use ranging from student loans to viewing your driving record that will transform the way these services are delivered. They also hosted a drop in surgery where you can speak to your technology leader directly about any problems you are experiencing with IT. For those of you planning to attend the Civil Service Live event’s in Liverpool, Newcastle or London, I highly recommend you pay a visit to the GDS stand.

Speaking with Rob Young at the Government Digital Service stand
Speaking with Rob Young at the Government Digital Service stand

What I took away

I came away from Bristol feeling better informed and re-energised and those of you who attended felt the same. I want to say a big thank you to all the volunteers who helped make the day so brilliant. Further events will take place in Liverpool, Newcastle and London and I hope that most of you will have the opportunity to attend. There’s still time to register if you haven’t already – so what are you waiting for?

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  1. Comment by Matt posted on

    Sir Bob,

    I'm glad you enjoyed your day out and that the event was of use to you. To respond directly to the four themes of this year's events I offer the following suggestions:

    • What we need to do to become a modern Civil Service
    Upgrade or replace our offices and infrastructure to modern standards, along with our IT and information management systems and working practices. Start to employ modern pay and PMR systems to both pay our people the competitive salaries that they are worth according to their skills, experience and qualifications and incentivise them to superior performance by actively identifying and rewarding said performance.

    • What skills we need for the future
    Recognise that identifying the necessary skills is only half the battle, the other is developing our own internal skill base by first giving our own people the chance to acquire those skills through professionally recognised training and qualifications and then allowing them to progress, using and developing those new skills without being beaten on through worse TACOS on promotion for having the gall to want to better themselves.

    Of course none of the above is of much use if people simply use the training they've been given to then jump ship to modern employers that will actually pay them what they're worth, so the issues I covered under modernisation must come first.

    • How we can work smarter
    Same again, modernise, up skill, develop and reward. Start relying on and trusting our own people to do their jobs without excessive oversight or interference from on high and reduce the reliance on overpriced under-delivering contractors.

    • What it takes to become an inspirational leader
    Learn how to follow, come out to the front line service providers and see how things are being done at the coal face. Recognise and understand the challenges that your front line workers have to deal with on a daily basis often from within our own bureaucracy. Then apply yourself to from your position of leadership to clearing those hurdles so those on the front can get on with their jobs.

    I hope that your re-energised state will lead to some actual input on these and I'm sure many other ideas which will follow in the days to come. You have a fine body of people at your disposal Sir Bob, but goodwill is in short supply and patience will not last forever, please do not waste what little of them is left.

  2. Comment by Mark Ifill posted on

    Some very good points here, I would be interested to know how many people actually read this blog I never see more than 3 comments after a post. More importantly will Sir Bob read it 🙂

  3. Comment by David S posted on

    Nail. Head. Hit.

    Sir Bob: a response as comprehensive as the original posters would be the respectful thing to do. I and others are keen to hear what you have to say.

  4. Comment by Not cynical just realistic, HMRC posted on

    Meanwhile back in the real world, most civil servants want to do a good job for fair pay and conditions, which have all been severely eroded. Civil Service Live may tick a few boxes for the SCS but like PMR, dumbing down to "a good modern employer" and worrying what the "man in the pub" is thinking don't help us at all. Building our future events in HMRC are yet another example of pretending to consult staff about matters which are already decided ("This is the right thing to do" is the latest management speak for "we are doing it anyway") Putting the customer at the heart of all we do? so we shut the enquiry centres!
    Perhaps our leaders have become so remote they inhabit another alternate universe, if so can they please try harder to understand the REAL concerns of the staff?

  5. Comment by Nick Trodd posted on

    I attended and enjoyed the Bristol Civil Service Live event. My own Department, HMRC is modernising and the plans to use instant messaging, email, customer self service and scanning are all, I think, the right thing to do and in fact should have been done years ago. I also enjoyed the ODP talk at Civil Service Live. I did attend one talk where yourself and your senior communications officer gave a very good report of the PMR system, you both insisted that it was the right system and that it will do a lot of good - my feedback on this is that the main part of communication is listening. Most people I speak to do not think that the PMR system is the right system. In fact I was pleased that your senior projects manager asked the audience what they thought about the PMR system; He asked "Do you think that the PMR system is fair?" - on a show of hands I estimated that 80% thought that it was unfair. Yourself and your communications officer made no comment to this. Your projects manager said that it looks like we have a lot of work to do. I do not want to detract too much from the positive day and I repeat that the improved use of modern communications has the potential to greatly improve customer service. Thanks.

    • Replies to Nick Trodd>

      Comment by John posted on

      I have to agree with Nick Trodd - There are many good things going on at present, but by simply sticking their head in the sand, and refusing to acknowledge the widespread concerns of staff regarding PMR, the SCS look as if they really couldn't care less about ordinary members of staff.

    • Replies to Nick Trodd>

      Comment by Nick Trodd posted on

      Please note that the 80% was very much an estimation, it was as far as I could see a majority who thought PMR unfair. To clarify Civil Servants feelings on this you could conduct a quick poll via intranet sites.

      • Replies to Nick Trodd>

        Comment by Andy posted on

        Nick - HMRC did a quick poll on the intranet homepage a few months ago. The average response to such polls is around 8/9k at most. 23k people voted negatively about the PMR process - it's never been referred since. I'll leave people to draw their own conclusions from that...........................

    • Replies to Nick Trodd>

      Comment by Andy posted on

      Nick, your experience of CS Live sounds good and I agree with you about what HMRC would like to do in terms of modernising its IT. How much will happen and how well it will work are other discussions. However, once again the most worrying aspect are your comments about the PMR discussion on the day.

      Senior CS & Departmental leaders continue to bury their individual & collective heads in the sand. They stick to the mantra that the PMR process is right depsite the overwhelming feedback from staff that it isn't. Will we ever see a proper response from Sir Bob on any of the hundreds of comments on his various blogs? It both amuses and saddens me that no matter the topic of a blog, people still raise PMR because to date, there has been no satisfactory respone or addressing of any of the many poihts raised.

      I think this will continue to be a major stumbling block to the success of any other reform initiatives and proper answers need to be given. I think we all know what they will be but at least if we them clearly in print they can be understood, discussed and maybe we could all move on.

  6. Comment by Jimbo posted on

    As William Hague said in his HMRC message: "PMR is the right system for us and it's here to stay". You simply can't argue with irrefutable logic like that 🙁

    • Replies to Jimbo>

      Comment by Winston Smith posted on

      Don't worry, I've been here for 30 years and seen any number of the greatest thing since sliced bread which is here to stay; they all get superceeded by the next greatest thing since sliced bread

    • Replies to Jimbo>

      Comment by Andy posted on

      We've had our "Building Our Future" events this week. I was talking to some of the G6/7s who facilitated them and they were "frustrated" that people kept raising the PMR process when the events were supposed to be about the much wider, strategic direction of HMRC over the next 6/7 years.

      I pointed out that it's because there have been no satisfactory responses to any of the issues people have raised about PMR. Until this happens, people will continue to highlight those issues at every opportunity. I can't believe the ignorance shown by the senior CS from Sir Bob downwards on this matter. Clearly messages such as the one from William Hague above do nothing to appease people. Building Our Future is about having "a big converstaion" - well that principle needs to apply to a whole host of others things too, like PMR!!