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Defra improves rating in annual civil service staff survey

The annual survey of the attitude of civil servants to their work indicates Defra has made progress in its staff management.

The latest Civil Service People Survey secured responses from 270,000 staff, nearly two-thirds of the entire workforce. Sir Jeremy Heywood, head of the civil service and Cabinet secretary, told the Guardian the overall response showed a service “not apprehensive about change but embracing it and getting on with the job.”

He said “high scores” were returned for those interested in their work (89%), had the skills and tools to do their jobs (89%), felt trusted to do so effectively (89%) and were confident in the respect of their colleagues (84%).

The data of each question in the survey is broken down by department and a key benchmark is the engagement index.

Last year, Defra’s staff scored 50%, down from 52% a year earlier, eight percentage points below an overall civil servants’ benchmark of 58%.

This time, however, Defra has risen to 54%, five percentage points below the overall average of 59%.

The engagement scores for Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) were 53% and 56% respectively. This shows an improvement over last years’ scores of 43% and 52%.

This year, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) returned 59% and the Scottish and Welsh governments were both on 63%.

When other factors are considered, Decc, Scotland and Wales are slightly above the average for “objectives and purpose” (83%) while Defra (on 78%) and DCLG (80%) are below.

Despite Heywood’s claim that Whitehall is embracing change, the figures show staff are are relatively pessimistic.

A collation of a series of questions relating to leadership and managing change produced a benchmark figure of only 43%. Returns from individual departments put Defra on 38%, BIS 45%, DCLG 50%, Decc 44%, Scotland 47% and Wales 45%.

However, Defra civil servants score above average in terms of how their bosses motivate them, are open and considerate, and value their work.

In January 2014, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Efra) raised concerns over Defra’s management, based on the previous year’s survey. At the time, Defra’s permanent secretary Bronwyn Hill promised to tackle concerns.

Speaking to Efra two days before the latest survey results, Hill said: I am confident that, despite some of the challenges around budgets and money …, we are on a positive trend.  If I could do something to make that increase even better, I would.  We will be looking at this year’s survey results, which are due out very shortly, to see what further we could do and in which particular areas.”

 

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