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Civil Service: Progression

Volume 607: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2016

1. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that people from all social backgrounds can progress in the civil service. (903980)

2. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that people from all social backgrounds can progress in the civil service. (903981)

We want to ensure that the civil service is fully representative of the nation it serves and benefits from the widest pool of talent in our communities and from every part of Britain. We have made considerable strides to increase diversity already, and we will shortly publish our strategy for social mobility, in which we will set out how we will further increase social diversity in the civil service.

As my hon. Friend knows, Plymouth is a low wage, low skills economy, but it is also the home of the seventh-largest university in the UK. What opportunities are there in the civil service in Plymouth for people who do not have university degrees?

My hon. Friend reminds us that there is big talent in Plymouth, and we want to make the most of it. Over this Parliament, as part of our broader commitment to 200,000 apprentices across the public sector, we will invest in more than 30,000 new civil service apprenticeships, which will offer a range of rewarding opportunities for people without university degrees, including opportunities already available in Devon and Cornwall. I am delighted to say that I have an apprentice in my private office. I hope that one of our apprentices will one day be Cabinet Secretary—and if that person is from Plymouth, so much the better.

I welcome the news that the Government have recently introduced name-blind recruitment across the civil service. What are they doing to prevent unconscious bias at later stages of the process?

Name-blind recruitment has been implemented in 75% of the civil service. We are working with other major workforces across the public sector further to embed name-blind recruitment. In addition, all civil service recruiters are required to undertake mandatory training to avoid unconscious bias before they embark on any recruitment exercise, and this includes panel members involved in sift and interview for fast stream apprenticeship schemes and executive recruitment.

I welcome what the Minister says, but does he agree it is important to recruit civil servants who will be lifelong servants of the state and the public and whose sole commitment is to public service?

Of course, and obviously we want to attract the best talent possible into the civil service. That is why we commissioned the Bridge Group report, which found that the fast stream, in particular, was deeply unrepresentative. We are taking considerable action to change that, however, including, as I just said, with name-blind recruitment, by publishing the pay ratio between the median and highest-paid employees and by creating over 200,000 apprenticeship opportunities in the public sector for young people.

What efforts is the Cabinet Office making to deal with the requirements of women who, unlike their male counterparts, might face difficulties because of the pressures of family life?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, which follows International Women’s Day yesterday. More than half of civil servants are women and more than a third of top civil servants in positions of leadership are now women, which compares favourably with, for example, FTSE 100 companies. However, there is much more to do to increase female representation in senior leadership roles, and we have introduced a number of initiatives, such as measures to increase gender diversity; a better system of entitlement for shared parental leave; more tailored support before and after maternity leave; and greater encouragement for job sharing.

I am pleased that the excellent Minister says there is no bias in the civil service—except, in terms of social background, if someone happens to want to leave the EU. How does he square that with neutrality?

My hon. Friend is ingenious in getting the EU into the question. Everybody in the civil service will, in the future, have an equal opportunity to get on in life.

One way of helping people from all social backgrounds to progress in the civil service is to move many more jobs, especially senior civil service jobs, out of London and into the regions, particularly areas such as the north-west. At the moment, someone has to come to London to progress in the civil service.

The hon. Gentleman is right; there has been a London bias to some extent within the civil service. We are therefore opening regional hubs. We will open one additional assessment centre in the north this year, with more regional assessment sites to follow. We will ensure that the fast stream is as attractive to people in all regions as it is to those in London.

In 2014, 718 people from working-class backgrounds applied for the civil service fast stream: eight succeeded. Is the Minister outraged by that, or is he wondering “How on earth did eight working-class kids sneak in?”?

If the hon. Lady is saying that we have a lot more work to do, I absolutely agree with her. Almost one in three people in Britain today are in working-class occupations, compared with a mere 4.4% of those who receive offers to fast stream, making the civil service significantly less socio-economically diverse than the University of Oxford. We know there is a lot more to do, but we are taking the necessary action.