Matt Hancock – 2016 Speech on the Civil Service

Matt Hancock
Matt Hancock

Below is the text of the speech made by Matt Hancock, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, in London on 12 July 2016.

The Civil Service is engaged in a mission to improve the lives of everyone in Britain.

Put simply, its role is to help the government of the day develop and implement its policies. But we know this is far from simple. This means tackling some of the country’s most complex and unique challenges.

There are always challenges. And now more than ever we must rise to them.

From steering the country through the ravages of war, to global leadership in tackling climate change. From the rise of the automobile to the heights of the digital world, the Civil Service for 160 years has served Britain with dedication and distinction.

Now we must add to our tasks the task of leaving the EU. While I voted remain, all democrats must respect the clear decision of the British people.

Now we must rise again to the challenge, and make Brexit Britain the global success we all know in our hearts it can be.

And I’m delighted to be here, setting out this challenge, at Civil Service Live.

We’ve held events across the country, from Coventry to Cardiff, Sheffield to Glasgow, and now London.

Over 7,000 civil servants have attended and many will have contributed to the conversation about how we build a brilliant Civil Service.

That feedback has been used to test and shape the Workforce Plan that I will outline to you today.

Through all this change, the strength of the Civil Service rests on the rock of its immutable core values – objectivity, honesty, integrity and impartiality.

Because honest administration and official advice given without fear or favour means a better government and a safer and better society for our citizens.

Through this change, the legitimacy of the Civil Service rests on its service of the democratically elected government of the day.

I know the Civil Service will turn brilliantly to deliver on the new direction the people have set our nation on.

And the capability of the Civil Service rests on how it shapes and adapts to the changes in the world.

So this is about how we build on these foundations, and equip the Civil Service to deliver its mission for the people of our country.

Why are we here?

A year ago, I set out my expectations for what the Civil Service needs to look like in 5 years time.

Delivering better services, with strong leadership and outstanding people.

We are well on the way to achieving that vision. But everyone knows there is more to do.

Today we are publishing a plan that sets out how we can take that further.

Building on years of work to reform the Civil Service, it sets out a clear vision of a Civil Service workforce we want to see.

A workforce packed full of talented, motivated, dynamic people, dedicated to improving the country they love.

With more people recruited from outside, from different backgrounds, with different experience of life and work.

An organisation with more authority, more engagement, more accountability and more trust throughout.

The Workforce Plan is all about how the Civil Service can adapt to be the best.

How we respond to the changing nature of work, and especially the digital revolution.

Why we need to change.

And what we plan to do to deliver that modern Civil Service our country will need.

Let me take each in turn.

Future of work

We need to build a Civil Service that can adapt to a world where new technology is radically changing the future of work.

It’s a challenge and a huge opportunity.

For years physical tasks have been automated. Now cognitive tasks are being automated like never before.

This is inevitable. It can’t be resisted. But we can and must make this change work for us.

The goal is to automate work, but humanise jobs.

This sort of transformation, using the best technology, means we can deliver better services and lower costs.

It can free people up to do the thinking, the managing, the creating.

But it also means the jobs will be different.

I’ve been struck in the year I’ve been responsible for digital transformation, that any particular technology is only a tiny part of the solution – maybe 10%.

90% is about culture, training and human behaviour.

I no longer think of digital transformation.

I think about business transformation; using the best available digital technology.

We must support this disruption, and support those disrupted.

And support for those whose jobs are disrupted puts a focus on training and skills like never before.

Training in the new technology. That’s important, and this plan will reform Civil Service Learning to deliver cutting edge training.

World-class leaders

And the skills to embrace change; to manage effectively; to trust and to take responsibility. These skills can be taught. They can be learned.

For too long, management of our people in parts of the Civil Service has been the preserve of the amateur. But management – change management; culture management; people management – these things can and in future will be actively taught.

And I want to turn upside down the way training is decided on.

In the past there’s been a laissez-faire attitude to training that has encouraged people to train, and to train in what they fancy or think will be useful.

This approach is a dereliction of duty.

Training is part of a manager’s toolkit. Part of the role of the line manager is to guide people’s careers. This means steering – and requiring – training that a member of staff needs. Hands on, caring deeply about the progress of each direct report.

Not relying on faux-objective box-ticking ‘competency tests’, but on trusting managers to know, and care for the progress of their team.

And that of course requires leadership. Inspirational confident leadership, at every level, that develops talent and empowers staff to deliver.

We have some areas of excellent leadership in the Civil Service. I want to pick out the Department for Work and Pensions in particular for praise.

But across the board, standards can and must be higher if we’re going to get the best out of people.

That is why the Civil Service will be setting up a new flagship leadership academy. This will work with leading academics to provide world-class learning. Creating an ethos of excellence where leaders learn from each other.

And leadership should not be the preserve of those at the top. We need world-class leaders at every level.

So we will create leadership and management apprenticeships, building on the excellent expansion of apprenticeships already begun.

And we will be re-launching the learning curriculum for all civil servants.

This will provide valuable learning opportunities for those at every level.

The result will be leaders who are confident and inspiring. Leaders who empower and listen to their people.

Most inclusive employer

It’s been said before and with good reason; the Civil Service’s greatest single asset is its people.

So as well as strengthening those who are already civil servants, how do we attract the best too?

I believe passionately that to govern modern Britain, the Civil Service must become more like modern Britain.

We need to cast our net wider and further. We should be attracting and developing the best talent from right across our society, no matter who they are or where they come from.

Because everyone should have the chance to succeed and serve their country.

And because organisations work better when they are more diverse.

Evidence shows that decisions drawn from a range of experiences, backgrounds and attitudes are better decisions.

In March, we published the ambitious Talent Action Plan and launched our ambitions social mobility strategy, setting out the steps we are taking to become the most inclusive employer in the UK.

We will be undertaking a comprehensive review of the employee experience. Including the way the Civil Service identifies talent, to ensure every talented individual has the opportunity to progress.

True social mobility will only be achieved if we attract, recruit and promote people based on merit and potential, not polish.

This is essential to unlock the potential of all staff in our workforce, and all future recruits. Whether they are based in London or elsewhere in the UK. Where they work in policy, operations or elsewhere. Whether they attended university or not. And whatever their family background.


Last year I said I wanted a more porous Civil Service, with more exchange in and out.

Young people entering the job market today can expect to move jobs between 12 to 15 times on average.

Careers are changing and with it the standard of a job for life is long gone. Many people now expect to change jobs during the course of their career.

Civil Service structures need to reflect this, supporting short- and long-term careers. Making it easier for people to move in and out with ease.

Everyone should have the chance to apply for a job serving their country.

So we will be opening up recruitment. Roles will be advertised externally, by default, first in the Senior Civil Service, then throughout by the end of this Parliament.

Secondment opportunities will be expanded. Increasing exchange in and out, working with other employers to make normal an exchange of skills that will benefit the Civil Service. It will benefit wider society too. Increasing diversity of thought and experience, and helping us to tackle the hardest national problems.

Career paths

Movement should be planned and purposeful, to build skills and expertise where they are needed, whilst recognising that sometimes it takes time in post to build experience.

We want to stop the absurd reality that to get a promotion you have to move. It prevents people getting deep experience and staying put to see a job through, and encourages people to flit from one job to another.

No longer should we take people with no experience of an area or job and throw them in at the deep end because they have a gap in their experience.

Gone are the days of the gifted amateur. Today’s world is too complex and demands are too high. Today’s plan takes the professionalisation of the Civil Service further.

So I’d say to everyone wanting to build a career in the Civil Service:

Specialise; focus on your strengths; become the expert, become the best in the world at what you do. Don’t flit around.

And under the new plans for a professionalised Civil Service you will be rewarded.

Alongside this to develop breadth of experience, and depth of expertise, we must build career paths at all levels of the organisation, that reach right to the top.

We are leading the way by co-chairing the development of national apprenticeship standards for professions.

We also now have specialist Fast Stream programmes for Digital, Commercial, Finance, Project Delivery and HR. These are growing technical skills in our people from the start of their careers – setting them up for success. And I want to see top people from all these professions reaching the top.

This all complements the work that professions are doing more widely. Commercial, for example, are creating career paths across the Civil Service that extend beyond departmental boundaries.

All this will allow civil servants to make informed decisions. Informed decisions about how they develop their career, about the learning they need to build skills, and about when they should move role or seek promotion.

Flexible reward

To attract and promote the best talent from across society, we also need to reward and promote hard work and success. And we need to reward specialist expertise.

We are recruiting in an increasingly global and competitive market. And we need to be able to compete. The reward offer needs to provide value for money. But it also needs to be fair.

We need a total reward package that can continue to attract talented people. Both now and in the future.

Commercial and digital skills are in demand and in short supply. Not just in the UK but globally.

Government manages some of the most complex, and high risk, commercial contracts. So we must be ready. And we must prepare now.

So we are creating a new commercial organisation, for senior specialists.

It will help us attract these skills. It will create structured career paths and offer a competitive reward proposition through a set of new pay ranges.

We’re also looking at pay for digital specialists over this year.

And more widely, we will be reviewing the reward framework for civil servants.


All civil servants should find something in this for them.

It is ambitious. And it is rightly ambitious.

The Civil Service does vital work for the nation.

But it’s also practical and deliverable. And it must be delivered. For the benefit of the Civil Service. For the benefit of civil servants. And for the benefit of the nation.

This is where you have a part of play. This plan cannot be delivered without the support of civil servants.

It needs to be more than just a piece of paper. And it will be each one of you that brings it to life.

We will help you to do this. Giving you the tools and the support to build a modern career in a modern civil service workforce.

I’ve said before I want to see jobs as good as at Google. I mean it. And one of the reason the jobs in the Civil Service are so good is because the mission is so important.

We serve our country. Come, serve, and gain that deep expertise. There is no more noble calling.