Skip to main content
Image 01 07 Henley Civil Service Report AW1

Future-ready public services: Developing capacity and resilience in the Civil Service

Responsible for an increasingly complex range of tasks and projects - including delivery of the transformational policy of Brexit - the UK Civil Service is under pressure.

Against this backdrop, how does the Civil Service develop its leaders to manage constant change? Where are the skills gaps within its wider workforce? What are the pressure points in recruitment and retention? And is the Civil Service ready for a post-COVID, increasingly digital world?

This report draws on Henley and external research to explore the complex nature of these workforce challenges as one of the country’s largest employers looks to develop the capacity and resilience to thrive in the future and deliver better public services.

Key workforce challenges facing the Civil Service

Skills gaps

The UK Civil Service employs almost half a million people undertaking varied, valuable and complex work. For government to work effectively, its civil servants must be equipped with the right skills to develop and implement its policies today and build capability for the challenges of tomorrow.

Mapping the skills gaps

One lesson from the Civil Service's response to Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic is that it needs to be able to reshape itself rapidly to deal with unexpected or unplanned events. However, a lack of data means that rapidly assembling teams is harder than it should be, and recruitment processes are too slow to respond.

Attracting and retaining specialist talent

Along with skills gaps and shortages, there are barriers to recruiting people with the right skills into the Civil Service. A key issue is uncompetitive pay compared to the private sector, particularly for people with commercially valuable skills.

People development

The UK Civil Service is also perceived as having a poor skills development culture. This may be because IfG found that training budgets have been cut, there is little review of the training civil servants have undertaken, and managers are not held to account for the development of the individuals and teams reporting to them. Training also tends to focus on people considered to have high potential/those at senior level and new starters (such as via the Fast Stream).

Leadership training

In its 2021 Declaration on Government Reform, the government outlined its ambition to improve the professional skills held by both ministers and senior civil servants. This followed numerous reports and programmes aimed at improving government effectiveness, most recently leading to the creation of a National Leadership Centre (NLC).

However, these challenges are surmountable. As we have seen through our work with government departments, good organisational development plays an important role in addressing them, for the benefit of the Civil Service and the country.

Drawing on our high quality, relevant research and learning practices, we can help the Civil Service shape the future rather than be defined by it.