If ministers need training, what should that training comprise of?


What would you like to see in any training programme for current and/or future ministers – or should they require no training at all?

I’d like this to be an open thread – & will try to storify under #TrainJimHacker hashtag for those of you that want to tweet rather than post comments. First of all, there’s this:

1) Should ministers receive any training once appointed?

Some have said that ministers should be experts when they come into the job and not need any training at all. But in a world where everything is changing so rapidly – in particular technology and its application, is requiring no training realistic? Note that former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said that she regretted the lack of training.

With regards to training whether in office or prior to it for those politicians seeking ministerial office:


  • What should that training comprise of?
  • Who should deliver it?
  • Perhaps just as importantly, what should be excluded from it?
  • Finally, who should pay for it?

With the above in mind, you may want to look at the recommendations from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committeein particular this recommendation on training.

What I guess is a now defunct webpage given the closure of the National School of Government, this page gives an idea of what was once on offer to ministers.

The Institute for Government also gets a recommendation in the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s recommendations – the Institute stating back in 2010 that ministers needed training.

So. Over to you. What do you think about training for potential and current ministers?

[Edited to add: No, I am not looking to create my own ministerial training courses. I am not nearly wise enough to deliver such bespoke training!]


Simon Parker of the NLGN think tank says ministers should have to spend a week on the frontline trying to deliver their policies.

Dr Matthew Ashton recommends ministers read How to be a minister by Gerald Kaufmann


5 thoughts on “If ministers need training, what should that training comprise of?

  1. Three problems present themselves to me with regards to front line training, which is something that periodically comes up with ministers; witness, for instance, the latest attempt to make Michael Gove teach; and I rather fear dominates the public debate. The first is what people should be trained as, the second is a logistical question and the third is really more a fear than a question.

    First of all – what should they be trained as? Should, for example, the Secretary of State for Health look to be a nurse, or a care worker, or administrative staff in a hospital, or a cleaner? Would the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills work for a research council, a university or a nuclear physicist with the UKAEA? The problem is that there are so many potential different careers within any one department’s that to fulfil a meaningful selection of them for a meaningful amount of time would take a long time. Are ministers to spend all their time shuttling between different “front line” jobs in order to gain experience?

    This leads to the second question – where does the time come from? Quite simply, in order to have a meaningful experience on the “front line”, you need to spend plenty of time; not just meeting people, but doing things, waking up with everyone, clocking on, working around problems and the rest. Ministers have so much work to do in these days where everyone demands something must be done immediately about all manner of things that I do worry we’re going to squeeze them too tight with these time demands.

    Finally – is it best that they are trained on the front line? Is there not a risk that one simply becomes a creature of the staff and the culture on the front line; as we have seen in care homes and hospitals to give two recent major examples, this is not always the best place. Ministers need to have a strategic vision and they need to be as free as possible from being captured by their departments and staff; who after all, are interest groups, representing and defending what suits them best, because that is what large institutions do over time. Sometimes that coincides with the public interest, such as it may be, but often it doesn’t. I want ministers to be free to take a wider view than just the interests of a section of staff under their command. That carries its own risks, but I do not think they outweigh those of captive ministers.

    All that said – some form of training for all elected officials would be ideal; to help deal with constituents, bureaucracy, media and the legislative institutions of which they are part as a very basic outline. For ministers in particular, I’d argue, this presents a constitutional issue – should there be a period between governments; a fortnight say; in which we have a transitional period as ministers and others are changed. How do we set that up within our constitutional landscape; as it surely marks a major shift from our current view of power transferring pretty much instantaneously from one government to another the day after an election (with 2010 offering a rather rushed alternative).

  2. I can think of a few training schemes for them.

    Cabinet ministers are British. We all know no Brit is ever prepared for the job they are about to undertake. And we have solutions for that, very business oriented ones at that.

    First Ministers really do need to learn what shelves are, just like we all do. I hear Poundstretcher has a fantastic reputation in shelf usage skills so let’s pop them off down there for a few months.

    Ministers will certainly require literacy and numeracy skills and having attended schools on these islands, they, like the rest of us are lacking. They are like the rest of us after all. representation for the people by the people and all that, right? It makes no sense for us to create a bespoke training course for ministers. A4E I believe have a perfect solution for these problems already so…They’ll even get dole money while they undertake the courses. It is a fabby opportunity to put the basic numeracy skills to practical use during the training scheme whilst also learning about basic budget management, something we all know, thanks to Cabinet Ministers no adult in the UK can cope with.

    Need I continue?

    Live by the sword, die by the damn sword….

  3. Before Labour was elected it did run training for its prospective ministers. I’m not familiar with the content, but I know the programme was led/coordinated by Jack Cunningham as Labour had been out of office for so long he was I think the only front bench spokesperson with ministerial experience.

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