Gareth Hills: Let's shout louder about the civil service’s achievements and challenges

The FDA President sheds light on his first meeting with the Guardian Public Leaders Network advisory board, and how he hopes to raise the profile of FDA members

I admit to having been surprised when Dave, the FDA’s General Secretary, said to me last December that he was keen to nominate me  to join the 2018 Guardian Public Leaders Network editorial advisory board, in my dual roles as FDA President and as a senior tax professional with over 30 years in public service. Having secured the necessary clearance from HMRC, I was delighted to find out that I’d been appointed – though less delighted to see my mug on the GPLN website!

The 2018 board is made up of nine leaders from many different public services, including central and local government, social care, emergency services and the voluntary sector.

The first meeting of the 2018 Board took place in February in the Guardian and Observer offices in King’s Cross. After a round of friendly introductions, each board member was invited to spend five minutes setting out the challenges faced in our sectors, the idea being that our thoughts and views will be used to shape GPLN coverage of public sector issues in the coming year.

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Much of what was discussed was on an in-confidence basis, but I guess it’ll come as no surprise that one common theme quickly emerged – the real harsh and negative affect that austerity measures have had on public service, on public servants, and on the people we serve.

I’m the only civil servant on the board and have been surprised to learn that civil service nominations have been scant since 2010, leading to under-representation on the board. A similar tale applies to the Guardian’s Public Service Leader awards.

That may be due to a lack of awareness or a lack of interest in, but it’s something I'm going to raise with the Cabinet Office. I want to see how the FDA can work with the civil service to generate more interest, more nominations, and hopefully more recognition for civil servants. It would be great to have a civil servant at least nominated for an award this year – I'll be part of the judging panel!

The board meets again in June, and if it’s anything like the first meeting then I can’t wait. It was fantastic to meet colleagues from such a broad spectrum of public service backgrounds and fascinating (and occasionally frustrating) to hear the challenges they face.

The time flew by and we were then rewarded with a tour of the Guardian and Observer offices. I can’t tell you how thrilling that was for this Guardian devotee, although I felt (and probably looked) like an awestruck nerd!

Gareth Hills is FDA President