Recruitment for the civil service should preserve political independence

Posted on: February 17th, 2014

The BGI has today submitted its response to the Civil Service Commission’s consultation on its review and updating of the recruitment principles for the civil service. Our key points were as follows:

• We strongly support the Commission’s emphasis on maintaining the core values of the permanent civil service, including political impartiality, which now have statutory force. We believe that the new recruitment principles should give even firmer emphasis to this essential requirement.

• Permanent civil servants’ commitment to the government of the day is institutional and not personal to any administration or Minister. Special advisers are in general politically committed and are accordingly subject to certain constraints on their use of public resources. We are concerned that the exception now allowed for recruitment of certain members of Extended Ministerial Offices may blur this distinction and create a new class of civil servant, appointed like special advisers but not subject to their constraints.

• Of the options proposed for the appointment of heads of department, we prefer Option 2, i.e. that where the independent panel assesses two or more candidates to be of ‘equivalent’ merit then, with the agreement of the First Commissioner, the Prime Minister should be empowered to choose between them after consulting the Secretary of State concerned and the Head of the Civil Service.

• However, there are risks in this approach if a too lax definition of ‘equivalent’ is adopted. We would prefer the tighter expression ‘equal’, accompanied by explicit guidance on what that means in practice, emphasizing that it is likely to be exceptional.