Any organisation must have effective leadership if it is to deliver its objectives. Leaders must set a clear direction and harness the talents of employees and delivery partners towards achieving that vision. In the civil service, leaders must focus on delivering the objectives set by ministers, and also on leading their organisation well. How they do that is important too – as public servants they must act in accordance with the civil service code and seven principles of public life.

The civil service consists of around half a million civil servants, with leaders at various levels. The Senior Civil Service (SCS) comprises the four highest leadership levels across government, consisting of 45 permanent secretaries and 6,490 other senior leaders (at 1 April 2022). The size of the SCS has increased from 3,616 members in 2012.

This value for money study will build on our previous Leadership development in the civil service landscape report, published in October 2022. In that report we described the civil service’s training and development of its leaders, focusing on the Senior Civil Service and the pipeline of future senior leaders.


This follow-up work will focus on the government’s overall approach to leadership capability within the Senior Civil Service. It will examine whether the government has put in place the conditions to improve civil service leadership – in particular, whether:

• the Cabinet Office has a clear view of what it wants in relation to leadership capability
• the Cabinet Office has a sound evidence base to support the design of its interventions to improve leadership capability
• evidence shows effective action on leadership capability leading to improvements
• government has suitable arrangements for applying and embedding lessons relating to leadership capability

NAO Team

Director: Kate Caulkin
Audit Manager: Simon Banner