Rupert McNeil: “We should be raising expectations of what it means to be in HR”

24 Sep 2020 By Eleanor Whitehouse

The government's chief people officer on obtaining the CIPD’s coveted People Development Partner status – and how it’s helped his team weather the storm that is 2020

A full year on from its launch in 2019, the CIPD’s People Development Partner scheme is continuing to recognise organisations that truly deliver in their people practice with an industry-recognised standard. Following in the footsteps of Tesco, the first company to be granted the accreditation, Civil Service HR – a function encompassing more than 3,500 HR and L&D professionals across all government departments, agencies and bodies – was recently awarded the status. 

People Management sat down (via video call, of course) with head of Civil Service HR and government chief people officer Rupert McNeil to find out how working closely and gaining accreditation with the CIPD is turbo-charging his people function.

Why was it important for Civil Service HR to become a People Development Partner?

It’s helpful to know what best practice looks like, and to work out how you’re going to get to that point. If there’s a touchstone for what ‘good’ looks like, then you should try and achieve it. You wouldn’t get people doing finance jobs unless they were qualified in finance, and HR is the same. You’d have to be really brave to think it was a good idea to not get accredited. The HR profession is absolutely not static and will continue to evolve, so we should be raising expectations of what it means to be in the field.

The MoD and HMRC also both recently achieved the standard. Why are you keen for other government departments to do so?

There’s huge value in other government organisations achieving the standards in their own contexts. Civil Service HR being awarded the status as well is the best of both worlds. Perfection would be every government department and organisation having achieved the status – then the ‘whole’ would be greater than the sum of its parts. 

How does becoming a People Development Partner benefit the professionals that work for Civil Service HR?

Every day I’m in awe of the quality of HR professionals across government, and this is good recognition of that. To some extent, it’s an insurance policy – it shows us what our profession thinks we should be doing and gives us access to the wisdom of the HR community. 

The CIPD has been a real pathfinder in experience-based assessment, and we’ve really encouraged people who have been demonstrating that they’re great people professionals to get accredited and have that recognised through a qualification. The process of reflecting on how you demonstrated a certain capability is really beneficial – we should all be doing it all the time.

How have the different government HR teams been working together to manage the response to Covid?

We learned a lot from working on the EU exit – there’s a real spirit of joint working and collaboration across the 30-plus bodies, and we have an HR functional board with all our partner organisations. So when coronavirus hit and we had an early warning that we’d need to start responding, we already had the mechanisms in place, and we’ve been able to stay reasonably ahead of demand. 

It’s going to be interesting now we’ve got the EU exit and ongoing Covid issues, and we’ll have to manage the trade-offs between those in terms of resources. But that’s the discipline that the People Development Partner standard represents – having an HR system across a group of employers and demonstrating that it works effectively.

To find out more about becoming a CIPD People Development Partner, visit

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