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Specialist skills in the civil service


In the midst of a series of major challenges to Government in developing responses to Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic and the UK’s 2050 net-zero carbon target,  the Committee is launching an inquiry on progress in developing specialist skills across the civil service.

Civil service skills and capabilities were thrown into focus in recent years as the UK built towards its departure from the European Union  - a focus greatly sharpened as we adapt to a global pandemic emergency. The Committee continues to scrutinise aspects of the Government’s response to Covid-19 and the civil service’s capacity and capability to respond to a range of challenges.

Government supports the development of specialist skills through cross-government functions, which develop and deliver expertise to government departments. This inquiry will focus on the NAO’s report on the Cabinet Office’s progress across four of those functions in particular: Commercial, Digital, Finance and Project Delivery, including the Cabinet Office’s oversight of the functions; progress in developing specialist skills within the functions; and areas where the functions need to develop further.

The NAO finds that the Cabinet Office now sets clear expectations for the performance of functions and requires regular reporting on their costs and benefits. Functions have also become more established as the means for advancing specialist skills and expertise across government.

However, the functional model to fully succeed, departments need to consistently embed that functional expertise in their business planning, and Government could exploit functions more effectively to support cross‑government working. In addition, to support recruitment and retention HM Treasury now allows functions and departments to exercise some pay flexibility – but this can lead to workforce management issues.

In mid-October we will question senior Cabinet Office and Treasury officials on the latest picture on specialist skills and capabilities in the civil service. If you have evidence on the issues raised in this inquiry please submit them here by Thursday 8 October.