Working to make government more effective

Hybrid event

Bringing in the best: How can the civil service recruit and retain top talent?

Permanent secretaries Cat Little, Sarah Munby and Gareth Davies joined us to discuss the benefits of external recruitment.

Panellists on stage at the Institute for Government

Watch the event

Listen to the event

The success of the civil service has always depended on the recruitment and retention of exceptional individuals – and this means bringing in talented outsiders with particular skills and capabilities.

It is 170 years since the Northcote-Trevelyan report argued that people “of the highest abilities should be selected for the highest posts” in Whitehall, while the government’s most recent reform plan, the 2021 Declaration on Government Reform, argued that more external recruits were needed. So, who are the officials at the very top of the civil service – and is enough being done to recruit the best outside talent?

Why would the civil service benefit from bringing in more outsiders? Does civil service culture make it difficult to thrive as an external recruit? What sort of skills does the civil service need from expert outsiders? And what progress has been made since the Declaration on Government Reform was published?

To discuss these questions, this event featured three permanent secretaries who have all spent time working in the private sector as well for the civil service:

  • Gareth Davies, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Business and Trade
  • Cat Little, Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office
  • Sarah Munby, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology
  • Jordan Urban, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Government

The event was chaired by Alex Thomas, Programme Director at the Institute for Government. 

Photos from the event can be viewed on our Flickr page. 

Follow us on X (formerly known as Twitter) @instituteforgov.

Our experts

Related content

21 APR 2022 Report

Anything to declare?

The government’s civil service reform programme requires increased momentum, clearer plans and renewed attention from senior figures.