Civil Service doesn’t know how many staff are underperforming, says report

Civil Service – iStockphoto

The Civil Service has no idea how many staff are underperforming, the government spending watchdog has found.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said three government departments – the Home Office, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – could not provide data on the number of underperforming staff.

Ten were unable to say what happened to staff after they were classed as underperforming, such as how many had been sacked or resigned.

The findings came in the NAO’s report on the Civil Service workforce. It also found that, in the Treasury, it costs £6,000 on average to recruit a member of the Civil Service – four times the average cost in the public and private sectors.

The NAO said the Civil Service was expected to “deal effectively with poor performance and underperformance among their staff”.

‘Not adequately following up underperformance’

“We asked departments to explain their processes relating to staff underperformance, as we wanted to understand how they dealt with staff not meeting expected levels of performance,” it said.

“Responses to our departmental survey suggest there are gaps in some departments’ ability to identify and monitor underperforming staff. This in turn indicates that departments are not adequately following up underperformance to support both individuals and the teams they work with.”

The report said three out of 16 departments – Defra, HMRC and the Home Office – did not supply data on staff in delegated grades classed as underperforming.

“This is at odds with the mandatory requirement in the HR functional standard that data must be collected on performance management outcomes and poor performance measures,” it added.

“Six departments were able to report on what happened after staff were classed as underperforming, at least in terms of high-level outcomes such as changing departments, resignation, dismissal or moving out of poor performance.

“The remaining 10 departments did not provide data on how they monitored and managed individuals identified as underperforming, including outcomes for those staff.”

These were the Cabinet Office, the Home Office, the Treasury, HMRC and the departments of culture, environment, health, levelling up, work and pensions, and justice.

Cabinet Office ‘must support departments’

Meg Hillier, who chairs the public accounts committee, said: “There are over 500,000 civil servants across government, with salary costs of £16.6 billion in 2022.

“Today’s NAO report says that some departments do not know how much it costs them to recruit staff or how many employees are underperforming. It also identifies differences in pay, recruitment and performance management across departments.

“Departments need to better understand how they recruit, manage and motivate people. Some variation is expected, but can also mean departments’ HR processes are less efficient than they should be. The Cabinet Office must also support departments to share learning and increase efficiency across government.”

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