Minister for Cabinet Office, Matt Hancock, spoke about opening up access to public service and enabling everyone to reach their potential.
The man this school is named after, Thomas More, was a man of principle. He wrote of a utopian society governed entirely by reason, where women and men enjoyed equal access to education.
When he was making this argument, in the 15th and 16th century, this was a revolutionary egalitarian idea.
He’s also, as chance would have it, the patron saint of civil servants.
But fast forward 500 years from Thomas More’s day, and we still have work to do to stamp out disadvantage in society and to open up access to the world of public service.
The Civil Service is the engine of government, under the democratic direction of politicians like me, but responsible for driving forward improvements to this country.
It’s an amazing place to build a career, filled with interesting people and important, exciting work.
If you join the Civil Service you could be a diplomat with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. You could work on groundbreaking infrastructure and aid projects, on defence to keep our country safe or on health to protect our wellbeing.
You could help make our schools and universities work better to educate young people, or improve our justice system, better to rehabilitate offenders.
You can be keeping hearts beating one day and working at the beating heart of politics the next. You could be the next James Bond, the next Kofi Annan, or if you’re a Harry Potter fan the next Arthur Weasley.
There’s a world of opportunity in public service. And we need to do more to make sure everyone has access to that chance.
To do that, we need to hold up a mirror to ourselves and see what we must do to improve.
Holding up a mirror
I want everyone to be able to reach their potential. And I want the Civil Service to make the most of all of Britain’s talents; to reflect modern Britain.
The Civil Service has already made huge progress on equality in terms of race, gender and sexuality. It is now more diverse than it has ever been and compares favourably to many public and private employers.
The proportions of people from ethnic minorities or declaring a disability are at historic highs; and women make up 54% of the Civil Service.
But the representation of all these groups at senior levels is still far too low.
That’s why one of the first things I did when I took this job was commission a report into diversity in our graduate Fast Stream, because you can’t fix your problem if you aren’t willing to hold a mirror up to yourself.
What we found was that the most glaring inequality exists beyond legally protected characteristics, when you look at social background.
One in 3 people employed in Britain today are working class. That compares to less than 1 in 10 applicants to the Fast Stream, and less than 1 in 20 successful applicants.
On this measure the Civil Service has a less diverse intake than Oxford University.
Let’s get out there and change this.
Reaching out to the Public
We’re facing up to the problem. So how do we fix it?
Your gender, or the colour of your skin, or the postcode you were born in or any other circumstance of your birth, these things should not dictate your chances in this world.
The public sector mustn’t shut people out. It should reach out.
This isn’t just the right thing to do. It also makes good business sense to bring in as many different ways of thinking as possible.
All the evidence shows that organisations work better when they have people from different backgrounds, different perspectives.
Publicly traded companies with male-only executives perform worse than those with both male and female executives, and higher ethnic diversity is linked to increased earnings.
This is especially important in a business where you face the range of challenges we do in the UK government.
The public sector’s work is far too crucial for those involved to sit in an ivory tower. Everyone in government has a duty to do their best to serve the public. So we are setting up a schools outreach plan for civil servants, and I want to encourage every civil servant to reach out, to devote an hour each year to visiting schools and inspiring future generations to work across government.
How we’re going to lead
And I want our public services to set an example, blazing a trail for other employers to follow. Today we’re publishing our 2016 Talent Action Plan, which sets out the progress we’ve made in the past year and the steps we’re taking to tackle inequality and extend social mobility going forward.
We’re going to reform the Fast Stream selection process, reach out to university campuses where we haven’t in the past, and boost our internship programmes and our mentoring schemes.
But just because you choose not to go to university that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an opportunity to serve your country.
So we’re going to take on 30,000 new apprentices in the next 4 years, with at least 750 Fast Track apprenticeships each year.
In 2050 I want the top civil servant, the Cabinet Secretary, to be someone who came into the service as an apprentice. You may be sitting in this room.
I want to reform our system to be more sensitive to social and economic background.
We have a government that exists to serve the British people, and it should not and cannot shut any of the British people out.
But you can’t manage what you can’t measure. We can only truly tackle the glaring inequalities that exist in our workplaces if we face up to them, and if we know what to look for. And at the moment there’s no agreed way of looking at this problem.
Which is why today I can announce that we’re joining with dozens of major businesses to develop a social mobility index – a ground-breaking new standard measure of social and economic background.
We’re going to use this index to boost social mobility among the biggest employers in every sector of the economy.
The British don’t like to discuss things like their parents’ background, particularly at work.
But it’s incredibly important that we have a proper measure so that we can make sure everyone has the same opportunity to succeed, whatever the circumstances of their birth.
The Civil Service needs to be a leader, driving change by being the most inclusive employer in the world. We should reward effort over upbringing. Potential over polish. Ability, over what accent you happen to have.
My colleagues and I in government have a duty to serve the British public to the best of our ability. You have a different duty.
You have a duty to yourself to make sure that you stand up and do everything that you’re capable of.
I firmly believe that people exceed your wildest expectations when you give them a chance.
Whoever you are, if you are willing to work for it there’s a place for you to serve your country and to achieve your potential in the public sector.
500 years ago Thomas More was fighting to open the doors of society to the disadvantaged. Today that battle is still going on, and it’s a fight we must win both for the sake of principle and of practicality.
To do this we have to throw open the doors of government to new talent. Don’t let yourself be held back, and we are on your side.