‘Bonkers’ – current and former ministers slam suspension of civil service graduate scheme

Government representatives including a serving minister have openly criticised the decision to pause recruitment for the Fast Stream programme

Credit: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0   Image has been cropped

The decision to pause the civil service Fast Stream graduate recruitment programme has been strongly criticised by Conservative MPs – including a current government minister.

Greg Hands, minister for business, energy and clean growth, said the decision to freeze the scheme, which is run by the Cabinet Office, did not make sense. The suspension of the Fast Stream – a key source of digital talent – is part of a planned recruitment freeze aimed at helping to deliver the prime minister’s announcement in May that the civil service headcount would be brought back to 2016 levels.

It was first reported in May that the programme was set to be paused. The Fast Stream website has now confirmed the move, this week adding the message: “We have paused Fast Stream recruitment in 2022/23 for the 2023 intake”. 

It asks those who are interested in applying for the Fast Stream in the future to send an email.

In response to the news, Hands tweeted: “It makes perfect sense to control the size of government and ask why and where it has grown since 2016. It makes no sense to say… that for one year, the best and the brightest aren’t welcome to serve their country.”

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The minister’s comments – which were made on Monday night, about 24 hours before Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid became the first of his government colleagues to resign – were backed by Julian Smith, the MP for Skipton Ripon and former Northern Ireland secretary, who labelled the closure of the graduate scheme as “bonkers”.

He added that, in suspending the Fast Stream, government is “losing a great opportunity to harness young talent and [is] pulling up the ladder on those young people who want to serve our nation”.

Several commentators pointed out that Hands’s comments were in contravention of the ministerial code, which says ministers have a responsibility to maintain a united front in public once decisions have been made. 

Finding talent for the digital, data and technology profession is a key strand of the scheme; of the 1,072 people that comprised the Fast Stream’s 2021 intake, 100 joined the specialised DDaT track. This made the digital profession the second-most popular specialism, behind only project-management, which recruited 103 fast streamers. Some 404 people joined the generalist scheme, which aims to provide graduate recruits with “the opportunity to undertake a wide variety of roles to establish your strengths and leadership potential”.

Unions and former ministers have slammed the decision to axe next year’s intake. 

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, said the decision smacked of “virtue-signalling short termism”, while Garry Graham, deputy general secretary at the Prospect union, called it a “chaotic and damaging” move.

Stopping the Fast Stream was described by former Cabinet Office minister David Lidington as a “very foolish” plan.

And former Tory leader William Hague said the civil service “needs more fast streamers if it is to be reinvented, but instead the government has opted for retrenchment”.

A government Spokesperson said: “We are committed to attracting the most talented young people to public service. As we reform the Fast Stream to focus more on specialist skills, training and regional representation, we are pausing the cycle of recruitment for 2023. Fast Stream places for this autumn will be honoured and other direct entry schemes will continue. We will continue to bring in diverse talent and expand roles and opportunities outside of London as we deliver a leaner and more cost-effective civil service.”


Sam Trendall

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