Background to the report

The civil service functions aim to develop and deploy specialist expertise across government. Typically, functions set cross-government strategies, set and assure standards, develop capability, give expert advice, drive continuous improvement, and develop and deliver commonly required services. The functions overlap with the civil service professions, which work to develop the capability of groups of people with particular skills, knowledge or expertise.

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This report builds on the NAO’s previous work looking at the civil service and the centre of government, including reports on Capability in the civil service (March 2017) and Improving government’s planning and spending framework (November 2018).

Content and scope of the report

This work examines progress government has made in developing specialist skills. It specifically looks at progress made in developing the cross-government functions that support development of these skills. Our focus was on four areas: Commercial, Digital, Finance and Project Delivery.

This report sets out our findings on:

  • the Cabinet Office’s oversight responsibility for the functions;
  • the functions’ progress in developing specialist skills; and
  • areas that the functions need to develop further.

The report reflects audit work undertaken between August and November 2019, using available data up to 2018-19 (for example, 2018-19 single departmental plans and annual reports) and reflects the position as of that date. The Cabinet Office, functions and departments have continued to develop the functional model since then. We have not included these further developments as part of this progress report. We consider the recommendations we made in the latter part of 2019 remain useful as the Cabinet Office, functions and departments continue to develop specialist skills in the civil service.


Publication details

Press release

View press release (17 Jul 2020)

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