Senior civil servants lack professional qualifications

Only one in three senior civil servants hold professional qualifications, according to Cabinet Office data to be revealed later this week.

However, the figures published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) also show that the proportion of senior civil servants with professional qualifications is slowly rising. The total stood at 36% in 2004, up from 28% in 2002.

HR was one of the areas where professionally recognised expertise was found to be seriously lacking, with only 2% of senior civil servants holding HR qualifications.

Of a total of 3,893 senior civil servants:

  • 3% (104 officials) hold accountancy qualifications

  • 2% (63 officials) hold HR qualifications

  • 10% (374 officials) hold legal qualifications

  • 3% (128 officials) hold engineering qualifications

  • 2% (87 officials) hold medical qualifications

  • 2% (60 officials) hold teaching qualifications.

IPPR director Nick Pearce called for a new professionalism in Whitehall, which recognised and rewarded professional qualifications as well as generalist skills. 

“Although Whitehall is improving, and there are many thousands of excellent civil servants, the pace of change is painfully slow,” he said. “Fundamental reform to the way the service is governed is necessary if we are to make systemic and sustained change. The Civil Service will never achieve consistently high performance without external public accountability and effective performance management.”

However, experts have warned that the tightening of budgets in Whitehall will mean civil servants are less likely to go the extra mile for their departments because the risks of making mistakes are far greater than the monetary rewards on offer.

The figures come shortly after the first round of departmental capability reviews found wide-ranging failures in Whitehall, particularly in the Home Office.

The IPPR called for the creation of a Head of the Civil Service, who would appoint and line-manage Permanent Secretaries, as well as have the power to reward high performers and remove under-performers, in the same way as the private sector and front-line public services.

Under the plans, a new Civil Service Executive would be responsible for the strategic management of core corporate functions and services such as HR, knowledge management, information and communication technology, and financial management.

Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell has made it his mission to create a Civil Service “for the 21st century”.

He has already launched a new Civil Service Code, put a new ‘leadership qualities framework’ in place and recently announced the second round of capability reviews in Whitehall.


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