I was grateful to be asked to spend some time at the four-day Civil Service Local event held at Chester University. The aim was to provide an outsider’s view of what the Civil Service is and to find out whether it differs from the popular caricature of pinstripe-suited Whitehall bureaucrats. I was surprised when a video showed that the British public’s lack of understanding of what the Civil Service actually does largely echoed my own.
Host Janice Lea then opened proceedings with a series of feedback cards from the previous day’s session. The words 'fun’, ‘relaxed’ and ‘inspirational' were read out frequently, and they were a testament to the event that I witnessed. There was a largely positive atmosphere, and I was taken aback by the care and passion that the attendees showed when discussing their day-to-day lives as civil servants.
The event is a breeding ground for talent, with morale-boosting exercises and an interactive session that included videos and a humourous montage from a popular TV comedy programme.
The session encouraged career development, aspiration in the workplace and, above all, leadership. Guest speaker Richard Heaton, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Justice, spoke with pride about the Civil Service and emphasised the importance of expanding and improving digital services to better serve the public. His positivity was infectious, and he was a hit with the audience.
There was a moment of solidarity during a team-building task called 'What can be done to promote the Civil Service?' The responses were almost identical, one summing it rather perfectly with the catchphrase 'Run by people for the people'. What the Civil Service do is provide a public service. Civil Servants are far from being "overpaid pen pushers", a term that was frequently revisited with hints of irony by those on the course. They have diverse roles – from prisons to passports - in locations across our country. It's worth recalling a tagline from one of the exercises - "If we stop, the country stops." That deciphers the mystery of the Civil Service rather well, I think.