Civil Service Training – Good News – But Some Problems Remain

by ukcivilservant

The absence of any serious planning caused unnecessary damage to civil service training – as well as to wider civil service effectiveness – when Lord Maude set about “reforming the civil service” in 2012.

The Public Administration Committee’s latest report on CS training (Strategic Leadership in the Civil Service) provides a useful summary of subsequent developments, including much positive news about current training initiatives.  But it also notes that some serious problems remain.

The report is clearly written and well worth reading in full, and includes interesting evidence from the Better Government Initiative and the Institute for Government.

Here are some key extracts:

Previous Mistakes

“We reiterate the conclusion of our earlier report, as well as those of our predecessor Committees, that, despite its shortcomings, the closure of the National School for Government was premature and left a void that has not been filled. In particular, the need for a dedicated facility where Civil Servants can reflect on their experiences and share them with their peers is as significant now as it was when the Civil Service College was first established. We also note how the closure of National School for Government has made the UK the odd one out, compared with countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany, France, or New Zealand. Most have a permanent institution, dedicated to the learning and development of civil servants. However, the closure of the NSG has also acted as catalyst to some of the positive developments that we go on to discuss [below].

In his written evidence to this inquiry, Julian McCrae (King’s College London) [said that]:

The abolition of the National School of Government (NSG) and replacement with Civil Service Learning (CSL) was probably a mistake, largely because of the serious weaknesses in the CSL model. This included an overly centralised, complex commissioning model. Its provision was also underfunded. For example, e-delivery was used as means of cutting costs, rather than a way of opening access to high quality provision.

Positive Developments

An apparently unintended consequence of Civil Service Learning’s (CSL) shortcomings has been that individual departments and Professions have taken their own steps to address their learning and development issues. This has seen a number of specialist academies established within the Civil Service. The Government lists the current ones as:

  • the Defence Academy;
  • the Government Finance Academy;
  • the Commercial College;
  • the Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA);
  • the Government Digital Academy;
  • the Diplomatic Academy; and
  • the HMRC Tax Academy.

In addition to these, there is also the Civil Service Leadership Academy (CSLA), which aims to develop leadership skills in the Senior Civil Service (SCS) grades.  … For the most part, these academies have been established ad hoc, as autonomous operations to address specific requirements, and then run, with limited involvement from CSL even where external partners are involved.

… the National Leadership Centre (NLC) has also been established as a separate initiative to address senior leadership capability across the wider public service.

But Problems Remain …

Sir Richard Mottram (BGI) posed the question:  … who is the individual in the top management of the Civil Service whose day job is to answer the question, “Are the leadership and development plans and programmes and the philosophy of the Civil Service up to scratch?  He confessed that he did not know the answer and that the “governance of all of this is really quite unclear and probably not sufficiently strong”.

We share Sir Richard Mottram’s view that the governance of learning and development is:   disjointed and fragmented, with lots of different organisations who do not appear to have any meaningful self-standing status that requires them to report what they are up to and how they measure their performance. Who at the centre of Government is leading this part of the Civil Service vision? It is opaque to me.

… including with the CSLA/NLC Relationship

The CSLA has been active since its establishment but still has no permanent location. … There [also] remain outstanding issues to resolve with the NLC before it becomes operational. Furthermore, we have found no evidence that thought has been given to the way in which these two bodies complement the professional academies.

The Government’s [told us] that “Our model is built on a system of dedicated professional academies”, but we could not find anyone who is accountable for this “model” or who has designed or has a settled concept for such a “system”.

As the plans for the NLC have progressed, it has become apparent that it will not play the coordinating role for the Civil Service the Minister seemed to suggest. The NLC’s remit will be both narrower and broader than the CSLA’s. Its focus is narrower insofar as it is aimed exclusively at the most senior levels in each sector: those “very close to the top of the pyramid”.  It will be broader because it will not be focussed on leadership in the Civil Service alone.

We welcome the establishment of the National Leadership Centre (NLC). For a learning body with a prospective market of fewer than 2000 people, the NLC’s £21 million budget is generous. We are not critical of this—if it achieves even a small improvement in public service productivity, it will easily cover its costs. However, in comparison with the much smaller amounts given to the Civil Service Leadership Academy, the budget is striking.”


Martin Stanley

Editor – Understanding Government