Reports have claimed that ministers’ proposals to make huge reductions in the civil service headcount will include the suspension of government’s graduate scheme – through which 100 budding digital and data leaders are recruited each year.
It was revealed last week that prime minister Boris Johnson wants to reduce the number of civil servants by 91,000, which equates to about one in five of government’s current workforce. The intention of these cuts – which have attracted fierce criticism from unions and other onlookers – is to return civil service employment to the same level as before the Brexit referendum of 2016. Since then, the process of leaving the EU, followed by the demands of pandemic response, has seen departmental headcounts grow markedly, after years of decline during David Cameron’s coalition administration.
According to efficiency minister Jacob Rees Mogg, about 40,000 civil servants leave officialdom each year, and ministers’ plan for achieving their intended reduction is to implement a hiring freeze. A recent report in the Spectator claimed that this recruitment moratorium would extend to the Fast Stream programme, a graduate scheme intended to identify and develop potential future leaders.
Finding talent for the digital, data and technology profession is a key strand of the scheme; of the 1,072 people that comprised the Fast Stream’s 2021 intake, 100 joined the specialised DDaT track. This made the digital profession the second-most popular specialism, behind only project-management, which recruited 103 fast streamers.
Speaking at the recent PublicTechnology Live event in London, Sonia Pawson, head of the Fast Stream, told attendees that technical skills will become ever-more crucial to the work of government’s leaders in all disciplines.
“What we realise is that, in time you won’t be able to progress to be a senior civil servant without experience and expertise, for example, in using big data for policy or operational purposes, or in leading a digital project,” she said.
The Spectator said the “latest thinking” on Fast Stream recruitment was that decisions on numbers would be left up to departments.
But, speaking to PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, a government source indicated that the ministers’ intention is to effectively suspend the Fast Stream programme by including it in the wider hiring freeze from the 2023-2024 intake onwards.
In a statement responding to the latest batch of stories, a government spokesperson said: ““The civil service does an outstanding job delivering for the public and driving progress on the government’s priorities. When people and businesses across the country are facing rising costs, the public rightly expect their government to run as efficiently as possible and the prime minister has tasked the cabinet to return the civil service to its 2016 levels, to deliver a leaner, more capable workforce.”
In 2021 some 404 people joined the Fast Stream generalist scheme, which aims to provide graduate recruits with “the opportunity to undertake a wide variety of roles to establish your strengths and leadership potential”.
Included in the 2021 intake of 1,072 were 125 existing civil servants chosen for the leadership-development programme.