122.Training and development for the Civil Service used to be coordinated and delivered by the National School of Government (NSG). Run by the Cabinet Office, the NSG (formerly the Civil Service College and the Centre for Management and Policy Studies (CMPS)) provided training and development courses for the Civil Service. It also hosted the Sunningdale Institute, a research fellowship scheme designed to channel academic research and expertise into the Civil Service. Its main facility was at Sunningdale Park with smaller premises in London and Edinburgh. It was closed in March 2012 as part of the Coalition Government’s Public Bodies Reform Programme.
123.Civil Service Learning (CSL) was established to oversee learning and development programmes prior to the closure of the NSG. In 2014, as part of its inquiry into Civil Service Skills, the then-Minister told our predecessor committee that:
the Civil Service has moved away from residential and classroom learning, to a modern offer which combines face-to-face courses with online training, coaching and other materials to support workplace learning. This shift has been driven by the creation of Civil Service Learning (CSL) in 2012.
124.CSL provides some generic training provision itself but has been based more around commissioning external providers rather than internally provided programmes of the kind the NSG supplied. Departments and Professions remain responsible for their individual programmes but commission these through CSL. At the time of our predecessor Committee’s inquiry into Civil Service Skills, the Minister estimated that this had yielded savings in excess of £100 million. Access to NSG courses was, according to the Government at the time, reputedly mainly the preserve of senior grades and those in specialist roles and was thought to be expensive, whereas the CSL emphasis on e-learning and workplace learning increased accessibility and reduced the cost.
For too long we have relied on expensive residential and classroom-based training, duplicating effort across departments. The new Civil Service Learning will focus on work-based approaches, including e-learning and will directly involve managers in the training process.
125.Lord Maude, who, as Minister for the Cabinet Office, closed the NSG, maintains that it was the correct decision:
I don’t have any regrets about closing the National School of Government. It had turned into not a very high-performing organisation […] I have no doubt it was right to close down the National School of Government.
126.There was certainly instability around the NSG which may have impacted its performance. Its name had been changed and it had moved from the Cabinet Office to become a Non-Ministerial Department before returning. In addition, a PFI deal signed on its Sunningdale campus proved “horrendously expensive”.
127.However, as well as concerns about its efficiency and the pursuit of savings, the decision to close the NSG was also motivated by Lord Maude’s desire to import skills and attitudes from the private sector in to the Civil Service. He told us:
There are some specific bureaucratic skills that need to be done in a Civil Service context, but a lot of the other skills should not be delivered just for civil servants. It is about getting the senior leaders into the top leadership programmes in top business schools, where they are learning alongside big figures in their peer group in the private sector and other sectors, because they learn from each other.
He also noted how he had been enthusiastic about sending permanent secretaries to leadership courses at the most prestigious business schools.
128.Our predecessor Committee’s 2013 report on Civil Service Skills argued that the decision to close the NSG had left a gap that CSL had not filled. Whilst the CSL’s emphasis on e-learning may have reduced costs and eased access, it has led to a “lighter and narrower” training offering. Furthermore, our predecessor Committee’s report concluded that it was not a direct replacement for the NSG and that something had been lost with its closure, with the provision for enhancing “skills, expertise and culture required to lead and manage change in the complex situations” particularly suffering in the absence of a dedicated, residential location.
129.The loss of the less tangible benefits of the NSG have also been lamented by others. Cross-departmental networks were established at the NSG, for instance, whilst Robin Ryde (a former principal of the NSG) called it an “anchoring institution” and expressed concern that through losing it, civil servants were losing a space in which to consider, among other things, questions such as “who they are as a group”.
130.Most of the evidence we have received has reiterated our predecessor Committee’s conclusion that it was a mistake to close the NSG, a point conceded by the Minister. Dave Penman of the FDA said that “There is growing recognition across the Civil Service that the decision that was taken around the National School of Government is one that they regret and that they are striving to find ways to replace it, both in its capacity and in the breadth of what it delivered for the Civil Service”. Professor Kakabadse said “We desperately need an institution that looks at the work we do, from leadership to operational levels, and provide[s] an integrated service to Government”. Catherine Baxendale emphasised the need for such a body to facilitate the induction and integration of external hires into the Civil Service’s ways of working.
131.Since the closure of the NSG, a plethora of specialist academies have been established by various parts of the Civil Service. There are now academies providing training in areas such as finance, digital, diplomacy and managing major projects. The Civil Service Leadership Academy (CSLA) has been set up to address dedicated training and development needs of current and future Civil Service leaders. The CSLA is at a fairly early stage of development. Its emphasis is on learning from previous experience with a focus on case studies and primarily delivered by current and former Civil Service leaders: “leaders should teach leaders”. The overall impression is that there is a renewed emphasis on developing skills in the Civil Service and a recognition that much of this should be dedicated and delivered in-house. However, it also appears that this development has been piecemeal, lacking coordination: Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood agreed that training provision since the NSG’s closure had been patchy and that more needed to be done to draw it together.
132.The Minister suggested that steps towards that coherence might come through the Centre for Public Service Leadership (CPSL)). This was announced (initially as the “Public Service Leadership Academy” (PSLA)) by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Autumn 2017 Budget and, thus far, has involved establishing a task force under Sir Gerry Grimstone. The remit of the CPSL remains unclear at the moment but included in its list of objectives is the creation of “a framework for collaboration between existing providers of public sector leadership development, and with private sector and academic institutions”. Reference is also made to it as “an umbrella structure” for existing provision. To a large extent, it appears to be an attempt to fill the gap left by the closure of the NSG.
133.However, it falls short of the simple reestablishment of the NSG. Julian McCrae of the IfG suggested that, though there was clear need for a central body, with various specialist academies being established within the Civil Service, it would be better to build on what is currently provided.
There are things to be learned from the NSG, but equally the current model works and is being driven by people inside the Civil Service.
134.This was the approach advocated by the Minister, who said:
I think what we need to do is try to draw out the best of some of the innovative things that we have done post the abolition of the National School of Government, for example, looking at how we use digital technologies, how we have actual in-department training.
135.The Civil Service has continued to prioritise learning and development and it has focussed on building its dedicated, in-house provision in this area. However, it is clear that key aspects of professional development of civil servants which used to be provided by the NSG are missing. Nothing has yet emerged to play the “anchoring” role that the NSG fulfilled. There is no single directing mind taking care of learning and development, either for individual civil servants or for the Civil Service as a whole. In spite of the range of different bodies, an overarching, coordinating body is conspicuous by its absence.
136.A body to lead and coordinate Civil Service learning and development activities should be established with its own permanent centre of operations. In addition to this “anchoring” coordination role, we reiterate our predecessor Committee’s recommendation that such a body should “be a place in which Civil Service leaders can reflect and build upon their experiential learning”. In establishing this academy, we recommend that the Cabinet Office consult academics to ensure that this institution provides Civil Service leaders with effective access to conceptual, reflective and experimental learning. It must address the unique challenges faced by public service leaders, which conventional business training cannot”.
137.We set out in this inquiry asking how the Civil Service should become “more mindful of itself”. This inquiry has not provided a clear answer to this question. How an organisation nurtures its future talent and leadership by which the values of an organisation is handed down the generations. We await the outcome of Sir Gerry Grimstone’s Centre for Public Service Leadership review with interest. We will conduct a follow-up inquiry once his taskforce has made some more progress.
191 For a time, it was a Non-Ministerial Government Department.
193 There was a concern that the commissioning of external providers was too devolved and uncoordinated and that departments were being charged differently for similar services, often from the same providers.
196 Cabinet Office 1 March 2012
198 National School for Government 2010–11, p.5
199 David Walker “Déjà vu for civil service training” 25 February 2011
202 PASC HC112 4th Report of Session 2014–15 para.80
203 PASC 4th HC112 para 70
204 PASC 4th HC112 para 62–67
205 David Walker “Déjà vu for Civil Service training” 25 February 2011
206 Q601 (Oliver Dowden MP)
210 , (Cabinet Office) paras 24–28
211 Q516 (Rupert McNeil)
212 Q622 (Rupert McNeil)
214 Q618 (Oliver Dowden MP)
215 Q618 (Oliver Dowden MP)
216 HM Treasury 22 November 2017
218 Q618 (Oliver Dowden MP)
219 PASC Fourth Report of Session 2014–15 HC 112, para. 45
Published: 18 June 2018