On Wednesday this week I was a speaker on the course Parliament, Government and the Civil Service (PGCS) run by my former employers National School of Government. The course chair this week – Paul Grant – is the same person who ran my PGCS when I was a wide-eyed Fast Stream civil servant in 2004, the start of a road that took me from DTI to working for National School of Government, and to my current work as a freelance trainer (although I do other things too).
Yet significantly this week’s PGCS is the last that will be run, for National School of Government is closing its doors for good at the end of this month, victim of the government’s budget cuts.
Let’s be clear – National School (and its predecessor incarnations, the Civil Service College and CMPS) has its downsides. Most importantly its role has never been altogether clear. The UK government could never let it have the grandeur of ÉNA in France, while the efforts to make National School a cost-returning training organisation in the market for government training against companies like Westminster Explained were never a complete success. Civil servants don’t like income targets it seems.
Yet despite all that I mourn the National School’s passing.
In the modern civil service with human resources functions largely decentralised to individual departments, National School courses were a little bit of glue holding the whole thing together. Long term friendships were forged from courses at Sunningdale or Belgrave Road (I’m still in touch with many people with whom I attended courses).
The knowledge and skills in the heads of the trainers at National School, something that has already been dissipating for a few years, is surely going to be able to be less comprehensively and methodologically expressed on courses run by private training providers in the future.
As I walked along Larch Avenue for the final time, heading down to the railway station to take the train home, I started to list in my head the very many excellent colleagues and associates I’ve worked with over the years at National School, and people who have imparted knowledge to hundreds, even thousands of civil servants. In no particular order – Jo Keech-Jowers, Adam Steinhouse, Kate Thomson, Adrian Rossiter, Sue Calthorpe, Tony Shaw, Quentin Oliver, Graham Davey, Jonathan Marshall, Graham Davies, Graham O’Connell, and many more I’ve worked with briefly.
Some small but vital part of UK government dies next week. That disturbs me.