Civil Service must fill the void left by 2012 abolition of National School for Government, says PACAC report

22 July 2019

Developing future Civil Service leaders is central to maintaining quality of government and the Civil Service needs a new institution to fill the void left by the abolition of the National School for Government (NSG) in 2012, according to the latest report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).

More must be done to develop the next generation of Civil Service leaders

In their new report PACAC reiterates that the 2012 closure of NSG was “premature and left a void which has not been filled by the body which replaced it, Civil Service Learning”. The UK looks “the odd one out” compared with the likes of Australia, Canada, and Germany, which have permanent institutions dedicated to Civil Service learning and development. 

The report examines what must be done to develop the next generation of Civil Service leaders, in addition to the “on the job” learning which currently dominates. PACAC welcomes the range of specialist academies which have emerged in recent years, and the establishment of the Civil Service Leadership Academy (CSLA).

In addition, the Government has established the National Leadership Centre (NLC) to address senior leadership capability across the Public Service. The Treasury has given £21m over three years to the NLC, in contrast to the £1 million per year funding for CSLA. PACAC also notes the continued absence of a coherent strategy.

Chair's comments

“The years since the NSG’s closure have seen plenty of positive initiatives to promote specialist skills in areas such as digital, commercial and procurement, but there is an absence of strategy and coordination.

“Furthermore, nobody can explain how the Civil Service spends an estimated total of £600m per year on learning and development, let alone whether this delivers value for money. Indeed, following our inquiry, my Committee still does not know who the Head of the Civil Service should hold accountable for Civil Service learning and development. I am afraid this does raise governance and leadership issues.

“The Civil Service’s ability to face future challenges with confidence depends on elected politicians and Civil Service leaders working together, towards shared objectives. All Ministers, and the Prime Minister in particular, must recognise this, and we recommend the urgent production of a White Paper as a first step towards doing so. This must set out how a new, central institution can build on the progress made, and become a worthy successor to the late National School for Government. I honestly believe that there is a will to do this, and it would strengthen civil service self-confidence.”

Key conclusions and recommendations

The Academy System

The report finds that, since the NSG’s closure in 2012, a decentralised system of academies has emerged to address capability in key areas across Government. While this is to be welcomed, inconsistencies of approach and funding have limited the benefits to the Civil Service as a whole. 

The Civil Service Leadership Academy and National Leadership Centre

The report urges the confirmation of core funding for the Civil Service Leadership Academy (CSLA) under the next Spending Review, and the system of academies more generally. The report recommends the National Leadership Centre (NLC) be allocated a permanent headquarters, research capacity, and necessary budget to ensure those at the top of the Public Service, including Civil Service leaders, can continue to enhance their skills.


The Committee expresses astonishment that despite an estimated £600million being spent by Government departments on learning and development, there is little clarity on exactly how most of this money is spent. This raises fundamental questions about governance and leadership which cannot be addressed without better oversight and coordination from the centre.

The way forward

Such coordination cannot be undertaken without consistent support from Ministers, irrespective of day-to-day pressures on the Government. A White Paper on Civil Service Learning and Professional Development should therefore be prepared. Ultimately, the best way to fill the void created by the NSG’s closure is to establish a new institution, led by a senior official directly accountable to the Head of the Civil Service and Minister for the Cabinet Office. This would coordinate existing training efforts across Whitehall and set the direction of travel as the Civil Service prepares for the future. 

Further information

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