Opening up

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Jordan Urban; Alex Thomas

December 1, 2022

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at how to strengthen the civil service through external recruitment.

The civil service’s ability to deliver ministers’ priorities is being hurt by its failure to attract, retain and properly use the skills of external recruits. This report calls on ministers and civil servants to act decisively to open up the civil service and overhaul its approach to bringing in outside expertise and talent. Drawing on extensive interviews with current and former officials, it finds that the civil service is good at developing high-quality generalists but is lacking in specialists, particularly in senior roles. Specialist technical skills, such as a deep knowledge of the financial markets or the use of artificial intelligence, are sometimes best developed outside government but are too rarely recruited into government. The report identifies problems in the civil service’s approach to external recruitment, with the civil service’s ‘employer brand’ damaged by high-profile ministerial attacks and the civil service’s own reluctance to present a positive vision of itself. Warning that the civil service will suffer “potentially profound consequences”, including a loss of confidence in its effectiveness, if it is not able to get the right people in the right roles to enact ministerial priorities and deliver good government, the report sets out a blueprint to increase the technical expertise available to the civil service.