The Student Room Group

Leaving the Civil Service - some thoughts

After around seven years in the Civil Service, I've decided to complete this part of my career by accepting a voluntary redundancy settlement with my department.

The public sector is going through a massive upheaval and whatever is left at the end of it may well be significantly different to the public sector that many of you grew up knowing.

I could use this post to tear into individual politicians, but that's not in my nature - and this forum isn't the place for that. So I'm going to leave with a few thoughts (well, a lot actually) for you all to ponder on.

Reasons for leaving


I always said that if faced with no choice but to implement a policy that I could not agree with and had real issues over, I would leave the civil service. My policy area has come to the planned end of its natural life. Therefore I am effectively "surplus" with no new policy area to work in.

Looking around the workplace I see a number of people with mortgages, children, families and dependents who need the stability of a permanent job. I'm lucky to be in a situation where I have no dependents and where the redundancy package clears off my debts - leaving a clean slate.

I've got a number of voluntary projects in the pipeline that I can use to expand and refresh my skills sets - without the civil service code hanging over me. These can only really take off with me outside of the civil service.

I also need a break. I've been part of the civil service for longer than any other institution - including primary school. But I've not had the summer holidays that go with it. I haven't had a long break for quite some time, and now seems as good a time as any to take it - to avoid the upheavals.

Advice for anyone going into the civil service of today


There are a lot of anxious people in the civil service right now. That the Fast Stream is pretty much the only publicised route into the civil service means that there will inevitably be some bad blood between those who are fighting for their livelihoods and yourselves coming in as new. Please understand where people are coming from but also don't let people use the circumstances as an excuse to take things out on you. Likewise, please don't kick sand in their faces - it's hard enough as it is for them.

Training budgets everywhere have been cut back bigtime - and in some cases frozen or centralised altogether. You don't have those restrictions. Again, be sensitive to the feelings of others.

I joined the Fast Stream when budgets were expanding - you're not. The challenges that you face will be significantly different to the ones I faced. The worst I had to deal with were complaints about bureaucratic burdens of given policies. You are going to have to face potentially selling the policies and plans that may result in organisations closing and people being made redundant: That makes you a lightning conductor. The challenge is maintaining your dignity in the storm. Remember it's not personal - you're carrying out your constitutional duty as a civil servant delivering for the government of the day.

Your managers will be under huge pressure - some of them may be going through processes of applying for their own jobs - while at the same time having to deal with significant reductions in their own teams. This is not fun by any means. They will need you as much as you need them.

Be VERY careful in how you use social media. The corporate media has had open season on public sector workers. I know a number of people who have had to face media firestorms; it's not fun being doorstepped by journalists at all hours of the morning and having your private life gone through for all and sundry to gossip over.

Join a trade union - if anything because should your department choose to hang you out to dry because of something you posted somewhere, the best thing you can have is a full-time fully-trained press officer to advise you and even respond to media queries on your behalf. Also, there are more than enough reports and quotations of politicians tearing into public sector workers - in particular admin/back office staff and civil servants in general. We're an easy target. Join an organisation that at least stands up for the interests of civil servants, even if the media chooses not to report what they say.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/mar/29/regional-government-disappears-1500-jobs-lost is one former civil servant I once worked with.

And I'll leave it at that.

PR

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Reply 1
Original post by Prince Rhyus
After around seven years in the Civil Service, I've decided to complete this part of my career by accepting a voluntary redundancy settlement with my department.

The public sector is going through a massive upheaval and whatever is left at the end of it may well be significantly different to the public sector that many of you grew up knowing.

I could use this post to tear into individual politicians, but that's not in my nature - and this forum isn't the place for that. So I'm going to leave with a few thoughts (well, a lot actually) for you all to ponder on.

Reasons for leaving


I always said that if faced with no choice but to implement a policy that I could not agree with and had real issues over, I would leave the civil service. My policy area has come to the planned end of its natural life. Therefore I am effectively "surplus" with no new policy area to work in.

Looking around the workplace I see a number of people with mortgages, children, families and dependents who need the stability of a permanent job. I'm lucky to be in a situation where I have no dependents and where the redundancy package clears off my debts - leaving a clean slate.

I've got a number of voluntary projects in the pipeline that I can use to expand and refresh my skills sets - without the civil service code hanging over me. These can only really take off with me outside of the civil service.

I also need a break. I've been part of the civil service for longer than any other institution - including primary school. But I've not had the summer holidays that go with it. I haven't had a long break for quite some time, and now seems as good a time as any to take it - to avoid the upheavals.

Advice for anyone going into the civil service of today


There are a lot of anxious people in the civil service right now. That the Fast Stream is pretty much the only publicised route into the civil service means that there will inevitably be some bad blood between those who are fighting for their livelihoods and yourselves coming in as new. Please understand where people are coming from but also don't let people use the circumstances as an excuse to take things out on you. Likewise, please don't kick sand in their faces - it's hard enough as it is for them.

Training budgets everywhere have been cut back bigtime - and in some cases frozen or centralised altogether. You don't have those restrictions. Again, be sensitive to the feelings of others.

I joined the Fast Stream when budgets were expanding - you're not. The challenges that you face will be significantly different to the ones I faced. The worst I had to deal with were complaints about bureaucratic burdens of given policies. You are going to have to face potentially selling the policies and plans that may result in organisations closing and people being made redundant: That makes you a lightning conductor. The challenge is maintaining your dignity in the storm. Remember it's not personal - you're carrying out your constitutional duty as a civil servant delivering for the government of the day.

Your managers will be under huge pressure - some of them may be going through processes of applying for their own jobs - while at the same time having to deal with significant reductions in their own teams. This is not fun by any means. They will need you as much as you need them.

Be VERY careful in how you use social media. The corporate media has had open season on public sector workers. I know a number of people who have had to face media firestorms; it's not fun being doorstepped by journalists at all hours of the morning and having your private life gone through for all and sundry to gossip over.

Join a trade union - if anything because should your department choose to hang you out to dry because of something you posted somewhere, the best thing you can have is a full-time fully-trained press officer to advise you and even respond to media queries on your behalf. Also, there are more than enough reports and quotations of politicians tearing into public sector workers - in particular admin/back office staff and civil servants in general. We're an easy target. Join an organisation that at least stands up for the interests of civil servants, even if the media chooses not to report what they say.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/mar/29/regional-government-disappears-1500-jobs-lost is one former civil servant I once worked with.

And I'll leave it at that.

PR


I'm sorry to hear that you've decided to leave, Prince Rhyus. I wish you the best of luck in your subsequent career!
Reply 2
Best of luck and thanks for sharing your perspective. I'm definitely going to join the union!
Reply 3
If you become a Fast Streamer, the union that is recognised by departments as representing your interests is http://www.fda.org.uk/

There's nothing to stop you from being a member of http://www.prospect.org.uk/ or http://www.pcs.org.uk should you so choose.
Reply 4
Original post by Prince Rhyus
If you become a Fast Streamer, the union that is recognised by departments as representing your interests is http://www.fda.org.uk/

There's nothing to stop you from being a member of http://www.prospect.org.uk/ or http://www.pcs.org.uk should you so choose.


Thanks. I'll have to do some research into them although I'll probably join the FDA. Unfortunately, I think there is a lack of awareness among many people to what unions actually do.
Sorry to hear you are leaving Prince Rhys...wish you lots of luck in your future career
Reply 6
Finally left the civil service (*Phew!*)

The terms of the Official Secrets Act still bind me, so no, I won't be betraying any confidences undertaken during my time in the Whitehall Jungle. I can however, sink my teeth into politicians who from now on say or do stuff that I disagree with. (I had to be very careful before).

I still note many of you are focussing on the big name departments and appear to be forgetting the less-well-known ones. I was in one of the latter. My biggest achievement? Securing multi-million-pound funding for a health and community centre in one of the most deprived parts of the country at a time when there were significant risks and barriers to that project. You can achieve amazing things in the smaller and/or less well known/less popular departments. Please do not forget or dismiss them.
Reply 7
Original post by Prince Rhyus
Finally left the civil service (*Phew!*)

The terms of the Official Secrets Act still bind me, so no, I won't be betraying any confidences undertaken during my time in the Whitehall Jungle. I can however, sink my teeth into politicians who from now on say or do stuff that I disagree with. (I had to be very careful before).

I still note many of you are focussing on the big name departments and appear to be forgetting the less-well-known ones. I was in one of the latter. My biggest achievement? Securing multi-million-pound funding for a health and community centre in one of the most deprived parts of the country at a time when there were significant risks and barriers to that project. You can achieve amazing things in the smaller and/or less well known/less popular departments. Please do not forget or dismiss them.


7 years as a fast streamer... what grade were you when you left?
Reply 8
Original post by lovetc
7 years as a fast streamer... what grade were you when you left?


Was in-service Fast Stream so was an existing civil servant before that.
Reply 9
There's nothing to stop you from talking about public policy completely. You just need to be careful about who you talk to and what you post on the internet. One civil servant did exactly this when setting up a Twitter account, setting up a set of 'house rules' - see http://halftheworldiswatching.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/puffles-house-rules/

In terms of which departments to look for, think of which area you would want to make the biggest difference in whether at a local, national or international level. (E.g. Climate change, business regulation, community development, transport, the legal system, law and order, health, defence etc).

Too many people on TSR mention they want to go into the Foreign Office without mentioning what it is they want to work on should they get there. Far better I think to focus on a particular policy area where you can get a level of expertise in, in a home department before moving sideways to the FCO if that's your thing.
The blogpost at http://adragonsbestfriend.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/the-right-to-be-forgotten/ covers the issue of "The right to be forgotten" - something that people in civil service digital media circles are increasingly having to wrestle with.
Reply 11
Thank you for your posting, I really appreciate your comments as I'm too a civil servant.

I however do not wish to leave my organisation and have attempted to upskill myself for the massive changes that my department faces. I have demonstrated this through achieveing a business degree which I completed in my own time at my own expense whilst some strong examples in the workplace.

My personal view is whenever an organisation is facing massive change then it needs all the assistance/skills it can get hence my drive to help my organisations situation with a view to furthering my career in the long term. However my attempts have made little difference in my role with my organisation.

Having been under the command of various unsupporting managers in recent years has left me very deflated. I recently graduated with first class honours, offered my new skills set to someone in very senior position in my organisation (becauseI was getting nowwhere with direct management) only now to find myself doing the same role I was doing 6 years ago. Even trying to sell my services further up the management chain did not work. This is not for the want of trying. Due to my efforts going unnoticed (studying and examples in the workplace) and after 7 years of doing relatively the same work I have decided to do a Masters in Research clinging to that glimmer of hope that I will be able to help an organisation through change whilst being recognised for my personal drive and determination. How more determined does one need to be when they are prepared to spend good money on gaining an education that will demonstrate analytical skills which has to be a plus for any organisation.

Redundacy would be an easy option but I'm not old enough to go just yet and deep down, and with the right organisation, I have lots of fire to achieve many goods things. I live in hope.

Thanks again for your post and it's nice to read a viewpoint that looks at both sides of the coin. I wish I could be as empathetic.
Reply 12
Very interesting posts, Rhyus and hensteeth. I'm in local government but have been around long enough to get to know many people in the civil service. The civil service seems much more ruthless - may be because it's closer to government. But some councils are being pretty ruthless at the moment as well.

I'm not surprised hensteeth that your additional skills have been ignored. It's rare that in central/local government that existing employers get excited about any new skills you've learned on the job. Some management qualifications may get noticed but even they can be ignored. Senior managers can perceive you as having a fixed set of skills and abilities and are happy to keep it that way. Try and advise them about work areas outside your remit and they're not interested. The best that seems to happen is more work for the same salary. But at worst you get a 'so what?'. New employers tend to be much more impressed so sometimes it's best to leave the duffers behind.
Reply 13
I'll be applying soon. Infinitesimally slim odds, but I've got nothing to lose by trying. Also, I'm ridiculously envious of you, Prince Rhyus.
Reply 14
Thanks for your feedback Nitebot (19th Sept) and it comes as no surprise of what you state about additional skills going unnoticed in government departments.

My personal view is that government departments outlook is one of a micro view. I have come across many graduates in lower grades, over a period of time that are far more professional, have far more integrity, are rational (not emotional) and can contexualize far better than most of their peers. I can confirm this from my own learning, for example when I gained my first promotion I was not a graduate and on reflection my skills were often questionable back then. Learning at a higher scale has both benefited myself personally and in the workplace. It is a real shame that staff that have these skills are not demonstrating them to full capacity. Maybe change management would be a lot smoother in governemnt departments if those skilled staff were placed in their organisations appropriately :smile:.
For would-be Fast Streamers and potential applicants, please read http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/resources/csmc/ - and ensure that you are comfortable with this BEFORE applying.
Those of you looking to go into, or who are about to go into a civil service policy environment, have a look at this article on the policy-making process. Any ideas on how to open up the policy making processes to wider audiences?
To Fast Streamers, present and former:

In terms of career development and salary, are the 4 years spent without a promotion or significant raise (as I understand it) worth it? I am about to start my placement, but my current employer has made an attractive offer for me to stay. While I still want to work in the Civil Service eventually, am pondering whether Fast Stream is the best way to do this, or whether I can return externally in a few years time, having gained experience etc. elsewhere.

Any thoughts or advice would be welcome, as I am really struggling with this decision.

Thanks.
(edited 12 years ago)
Original post by Bookworm.303
To Fast Streamers, present and former:

In terms of career development and salary, are the 4 years spent without a promotion or significant raise (as I understand it) worth it? I am about to start my placement, but my current employer has made an attractive offer for me to stay. While I still want to work in the Civil Service eventually, am pondering whether Fast Stream is the best way to do this, or whether I can return externally in a few years time, having gained experience etc. elsewhere.

Any thoughts or advice would be welcome, as I am really struggling with this decision.

Thanks.


The annual raises are significant - my pay went up on average nearly £2,000 per year. You stay at the same 'grade' (HEO-D Fast Streamer) but the 'salary band' that you are on depends on how long you have been a fast streamer. As a starter, your pay will inevitably be lower than someone who has been on the fast stream for say 3 years.
Some of you may be interested in a couple of blogs/posts by a few current and former civil servants:

Question the Powerful - a series of posts by Dr Henry Tam, formerly of the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government
Public administration and policy - a series of posts on the blog "A dragon's best friend"
IG Mansfield - the outside activities of Iain Mansfield at the Department for Business - which I hope will give you some feel for having a life outside of the civil service as well as the day job within
I have something to say about that... Hadley Beeman on open data. This is one of the growing areas in the civil service. Current and future Fast Streamers, I strongly recommend getting your heads around this agenda as open data, access to information, knowledge management and information security are areas that are growing in importance and are not going to go away anytime soon.

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