We must preserve the Civil Service Fast Stream

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The Civil Service Fast Stream is the Government’s flagship graduate programme, aiming to produce bright and adaptable future leaders. Consistently ranked in the top ten of The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers, the Fast Stream offers three to four-year intensive placement schemes which provide an insight into the inner workings of various government departments. Graduates interested in fields ranging from diplomacy to finance, human resources to project delivery, and education to defence policy are likely to benefit from the wide variety of schemes on offer, with the opportunity for multiple rotations between different departments. Completing the scheme results in promotion to ‘Grade 7’ of the Civil Service, and successful fast streamers can enjoy a minimum salary of £28,000.

Advantages reaped by both graduates and the Government are manifold. Excellent career prospects for graduates and troupes of forward-thinking individuals capable of driving policy and reform on behalf of the public are considerable merits which make the scheme a remarkable asset to the UK government. Newly- released Cabinet plans to pause the fast-track recruitment process for at least a year, therefore, seem ill- conceived.

Supposedly, the decision is part of the Government’s plan to slash up to 91,000 Civil Service jobs in the hopes of making a £3.75 billion annual saving. However, considering that the programme costs the Government approximately £41m a year – a mere fraction of the £3.75 billion the policy aims to save – one cannot help but wonder why the Fast Stream programme is specifically being targeted.

Curtailing the opportunities available to graduates is not the answer

Jacob Rees-Mogg claims that such reductions in numbers are necessary to ensure efficient spending of the taxpayers’ money. Still, with years of unprecedented disruption caused by Covid-19 and Brexit, surely a fully-staffed Civil Service is just what the Government needs. A massive backlog of paper applications at the DVLA has left motorists waiting over six weeks to receive driving licenses. Those needing new passports find themselves in a similar situation.

Recently urged to launch a recruitment drive for additional staff to alleviate the backlog of state pension payments, the Department for Work and Pensions is among the other departments facing similar heavy workloads and staffing crises. A reduced Civil Service and a non-existent Fast Stream, therefore, risk decimating the services the public depends on. Although departmental efficiency has been criticised over the last decade, a reduction in bureaucracy does not necessitate the suspension of the very scheme that could make the Civil Service more efficient. Indeed, if the workforce is on its knees now, pausing the Fast Stream would only exacerbate the situation further.

Curtailing the opportunities available to graduates is not the answer to the Government’s funding crisis at a time when employment prospects have already been hit hard by the pandemic. The Fast Stream is one of the most inclusive UK graduate schemes. Its discontinuation would mean the disappearance of opportunities such as the Summer Diversity Internship Programme, which gives university students from underrepresented backgrounds the chance to experience life as civil servants.

Losing the Civil Service Fast Stream would devastate our governance

While the Fast Stream receives over 30,000 applications a year, only an estimated 1,000 are chosen, making the programme highly selective and its future civil servants ‘the best of the best’. Fast-streamers, therefore, provide invaluable support to the Civil Service, assuming demanding responsibilities from the outset of their careers, including managing the Government’s death management policy, performing secretarial duties for ministerial meetings, and supporting the Prime Minister in delivering the Government’s top domestic and economic priorities. To view the Fast Stream’s graduates as resources which can be easily dispensed to generate short-term financial benefit is to ignore the excellent value for money such graduates provide.

The suspension of the Civil Service’s Fast Stream programme is a significant oversight which ignores the immense value derived from the scheme. The programme represents a fraction of the Government’s targets for annual savings, yet it is of immeasurable value to both graduates and those they serve. Scrapping the scheme would only generate small financial benefits at the expense of careers and opportunities, as well as work which is fundamental to Government function.

Image: ukcivilservice via Creative Commons

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