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The need for more highly skilled managers to improve public services and boost economic growth has been “dangerously overlooked” by ministers for two decades, the head of the Chartered Management Institute has warned.
Ann Francke, chief executive of the CMI, spoke out after polling showed that less than a third of MPs believed improving the quality of management and leadership in UK public services, businesses and other organisations should be a high priority for the government over the next year.
“It’s time for political leaders to start taking responsibility,” Francke told the Financial Times, adding that she was “disheartened” by the findings, particularly given a series of “high-profile cases of serious wrongdoing, mismanagement, and toxic cultures across UK organisations in recent months”.
Her intervention follows several controversies that have highlighted the importance of strong leadership — including crises at the CBI, which was hit by allegations of sexual misconduct and an unhealthy workplace culture.
The survey, commissioned by the CMI and conducted by pollster Savanta, showed that Conservative MPs placed less emphasis on governance skills than Labour MPs, with less than a quarter of Tory parliamentarians rating it a high priority.
The UK’s skills shortage has also long been viewed as a drag on the economy and a policy area that requires greater ministerial focus.
Research conducted by the CMI showed that organisations that invest in management and leadership development programmes experience, on average, a 23 per cent increase in performance set against their own objectives, and a 32 per cent rise in employee engagement and productivity.
Francke highlighted that Westminster and government departments had also been “marred with serious allegations of management misconduct, including bullying and sexual misconduct” in recent years.
“As employers, MPs have a personal responsibility to ensure they and their team have the management skills they need to succeed for taxpayers,” said Francke.
Strong leadership is also critical to bolstering the UK’s productivity, she added. “If we are to emerge from the economic doldrums and set a path to long-term growth and prosperity, we must rethink our approach,” she said.
Meg Hillier, Labour chair of the House of Commons public accounts committee, agreed that highly skilled managers in the public sector can save the taxpayer money and make services more efficient.
“Investment in good management saves money long term. Many politicians think about headlines or manifesto pledges, but a lot of government is about the nitty gritty of delivery” Hillier said.
She praised ministers for creating the Leadership College for Government, a body that provides leadership and management training for civil servants, last year.
A government spokesperson said ministers were “committed to building and maintaining management and leadership skills in the civil service and wider public sector”, including through civil service reforms recently announced by Jeremy Quin, Cabinet Office minister.
Quin told the FT last month that he is launching a secondment scheme with FTSE 100 companies to lure digital and data experts to Whitehall.
A drive to recruit more professionals from the private sector into the senior civil service and moves to step up the use of artificial intelligence in the public sector were also planned, he said.