Background to the report

Since 2016, EU Exit, the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis have all resulted in increased workload pressures on departments and civil servants, as well as the wider public sector. The number of civil servants has increased every year since 2016, and in March 2023 totalled 519,780.

Jump to downloads

Government faces substantial challenges to attract and retain civil service staff, and declining morale among civil servants is evident from employee surveys as well as from more frequent industrial action.

Scope of the report

This report identifies potential areas where departments could make efficiency improvements to some of their key human resources (HR) processes. We chose to examine recruitment, pay and performance management because each of these areas has significant impacts on overall staff costs or organisational performance.

We examined three areas:

  • Recruitment: How do departments vary in the speed and cost of their recruitment activity?
  • Pay: Does pay differ by department for civil servants at the same grade, particularly for staff in the same local area or with specialist skills?
  • Performance management: How do departments’ performance management approaches vary?


There are clearly many differences across departments in how they carry out staff recruitment, pay setting and performance management.

Variation is to be expected since departments have different functions, are responsible for employing their own staff and can organise their HR processes as they see fit. However, variation will sometimes indicate there is scope to improve efficiency and departments need to recognise this.

In some crucial areas, such as recruitment costs and managing underperforming staff, many departments do not know how efficient their processes are or how they could be better.

The Cabinet Office has a fundamental role to play in requiring departments to collect data on their HR processes and helping them to understand where and how efficiency could be improved. It also has a responsibility to monitor how the overall system is working, to help prevent or minimise unintended effects such as departments competing against each other for staff.

The Cabinet Office and departments have distinct responsibilities for the civil service workforce, and they need to work together more effectively to help the civil service meet the challenges and pressures it faces from all sides.


Publication details

Press release

View press release (29 Nov 2023)

Latest reports