25 September 2023

UNITED KINGDOM: Advice to Ministers questioned

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The UK Government relies too heavily on the hope that officers will stay in their jobs rather than doing more to improve knowledge management, a senior Public Servant has said.

Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care, Sir Chris Wormald (pictured) said anecdotal evidence indicated the quality of advice provided to Ministers was too variable.

Speaking at an Institute for Government session on the future of policymaking, Sir Chris, who is also head of the Civil Service Policy Profession, expressed concerns about policy professionals leaving the Public Service mid-career, but said he did not believe that churn was necessarily the main problem.

“You do want people to stay in a post for a long time and become actual experts, but that can’t be, shouldn’t be, an excuse not to do the knowledge management bit,” Sir Chris said.

He said the switch from paper-based to digital-based recordkeeping had initially been a problem for the Public Service.

“Technology opens up much more sophisticated ways of doing knowledge management, but only if you use it well,” Sir Chris said.

“If I’m honest, our knowledge management for a long time when we went digital was worse than when we had paper files because you really used to think about what you put on a file.”

He said there was a period when the public record was much worse because there was a load of emails as opposed to an auditable record of what happened.

Sir Chris said the Public Service needed to do more to motivate, train and retain its specialists between Grade 7 and the Senior Civil Service.

London, 29 April 2109

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