Head of Civil Service praises private sector HR professionals for jumping ship

Cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell has praised the influx of private sector HR professionals into the Civil Service – and backed them to turn around its performance.

Serious people management deficiencies in government departments were highlighted by 12 recent capability reviews run by the Cabinet Office. The reviews recommending strengthening HR teams to improve departmental leadership, strategy and delivery abilities.

As a result, 25 new HR directors have been recruited to Whitehall departments and their agencies in the past 18 months, eight of which have come from the private sector. These include Chris Last, who joined the Department for Work and Pensions from Ford, and Bev Shears, moving to the Ministry of Justice after a spell at South West Trains.

O’Donnell told Personnel Today: “Capability reviews threw up HR issues across the Civil Service. We are trying to strengthen in the short-term by bringing in people from outside, and then from growing more from within the service. There are real professional skills we can use in the Civil Service.”

He backed departments to do better on HR capability when re-scored two years after their initial assessment.

“I am confident that we will see better scores from what we have seen so far,” he said. “There have been significant improvements. Sometimes these are due to people that came in, other times it is down to getting boards to focus on people issues.”

Gill Rider, director general, leadership and people strategy at the Cabinet Office, agreed that new blood had been important.

“Having come from the outside into the Civil Service, the process is about getting the balance right,” she told Personnel Today. “HR colleagues in the Civil Service don’t need to come from or go to the private sector to be good at HR – but I would advocate allowing people to move from one department to the other.”

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