Civil Service Commission

CSC Open Week Tuesday 19 March - Questions and Answers

Civil Service pensions and political impartiality

Rod, National Records of Scotland asks:

I would like to raise a question regarding communication around pensions and political impartiality. In an update on the pensions issue in July 2012, the Head of the Civil Service signed off his letter to staff with the following paragraph:

“For those who move to the 2015 scheme, there will be changes to the way benefits for future service build up and the age at which you can take these 2015 benefits in full. These changes are set out on the Civil Service website. However, the Civil Service pension scheme will continue to remain among the best available“.

It takes only one quick Google search to throw up numerous uses of this phrase (in bold) by coalition ministers:

• The spokesman said Cameron regards the pension offer as “fair” to both public sector workers and taxpayers and believes it will deliver pensions which are “amongst the very best available“, with some low-paid workers receiving more than under the current system. (David Cameron, Guardian coverage of the November 30 strike – http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/blog/2011/nov/30/public-sector-strikes-live-coverage?INTCMP=SRCH)

• In a statement, the health secretary said: “The proposals are a fair deal for staff and taxpayers and make public service pensions affordable and sustainable. This means the nurses and doctors who dedicate their life to treating us will continue to receive pensions that are amongst the best available.” (Andrew Lansley, BBC News article – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/health-17156525)

Given that the deployment of explicitly political language, especially in the context of a sensitive issue like pensions, would go against sections 14 and 15 of the Civil Service Code for ordinary civil servants – who in consequence are very careful not to use such language – do the Commissioners have a view on its public use by the Head of the Civil Service?

Rod,

Thank you for your question. I do not see that the Head of the Civil Service using similar phrases to the Government to describe a policy goes against the Civil Service Code. The Code makes clear that civil servants must serve the Government of the day, whatever its political persuasion, to the best of their ability in a way that maintains political impartiality. Ministers should be confident that the Civil Service will implement their policies; and opposition politicians must have the same confidence that their policies will be implemented in future if they come into Government.

David Normington
First Civil Service Commissioner

 

Temporary promotion and voluntary exit programmes

A civil servant asks:

Can you please tell me the process regarding temporary promotion. I now work for the Scottish Government, but in my previous employ for the MOD the regulations appeared to be more specific.

I understand that you cannot comment on individual cases, however for the purpose of information I would like to inform you that I was on temporary promotion for a continuous period of two years in a highly technical post before being replaced by a member of staff substantive within grade with no knowledge of the highly technical field.

With regard to Voluntary Exit programmes, is there any Civil Service Wide policy for staff who wish to leave and do not have a post but are refused exit through this Policy?

Thank you for your time and information with regard to these questions.

Thank you for your questions.

You ask about the processes around temporary promotions. We have received a number of questions on this theme today. The Civil Service Commission was set up specifically to ensure that recruitment into the Civil Service is on merit. We have no powers, unfortunately, in relation to internal moves and promotions, except at the very senior levels.

But Government Departments are governed by the Civil Service Management Code which says “all promotions and lateral transfers follow from a considered decision as to the fitness of individuals, on merit, to undertake the duties concerned”. There should be clear Departmental processes on promotions and lateral transfers which implement this requirement and provide an appeals process for those who are dissatisfied. So merit is important for promotions and transfers. It’s just that there is no independent body, like the Commission, to check and report on it.

Your second question relates to voluntary exit programmes, which again I am afraid falls outside the remit of the Commission. If there are Civil Service wide rules on this they too would be contained in the Civil Service Management Code which can be viewed on the Civil Service website http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/resources/civil-service-management-code You should also be able to get advice from Civil Service Employee Policy http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/networks/hr/cs-employee-policy

Wanda Goldwag
Civil Service Commissioner

 

We received a question from Ruel in MOJ about the heirarchical nature of the Civil Service and how somebody can become a Civil Service Commissioner.

Ruel, thank you for your questions.

Your first question does not relate directly to the role of the Civil Service Commission, but I think you raise a good point about the Civil Service, which is that it can sometimes operate in a very hierarchical way. In any organisational good leaders should understand that they do not have all the wisdom, or hold all the answers. The Government published it Civil Service Reform Plan last year, which talked about the need for a Civil Service which was less hierarchical and where innovation and challenge were encouraged. As you say, this should involve staff at all levels. In your organisation are there not ways for your voice to be heard; through open meetings, staff suggestion schemes etc? If not, then perhaps you should suggest something.

I think your second question is how you become a Civil Service Commissioner. We have all been appointed after an open competition. In my case I thought that helping to uphold the principle of recruitment on merit, and the Civil Service values, was really important, though I have not worked as a civil servant myself. I answered an advert and went through two rounds of interviews before I was appointed for a five year term. If someone is interested in becoming a Commissioner I would recommend they keep an eye on the Commission’s website as there will be a notice there when the next round of Commissioner vacancies need to be filled.

Wanda Goldwag
Civil Service Commissioner

 

Internal recruitment and the role of CSC

John from DWP:

I would like to ask the Commission as to what rational is being used in persisting with such an outdated practice, arguably not open and fair competition to ‘internal civil servants, as to substantive grading opportunities only open to substantive grades?

For example if an employee who is a band c cannot apply for an internal band d opportunity or b to c why does this persist to be the way we work? Especially, if an employee has the competencies gained from outside the department or has worked at a higher level within. Being in the ‘right place at the right time’ seems suspect ethically?

The new civil service reform plans seems to say that this ought not to be going on but later on has a ‘get out’ clause to not allow open competition to take place. I am unable to see this as being objective, impartial, honest, showing integrity and overall transparent.

I look forward to your comments, reply, and thank you ever so much.

John, thank you for your question about departments restricting internal vacancies to civil servants who are already on the same substantive grade. This is one of a number of questions we have received about internal promotion and selection matters.

As David Normington explained to Alex in the first question we answered this morning, the Commission does not have statutory powers relating to internal moves and promotions, only external recruitment into the Civil Service. Government Departments are governed by the Civil Service Management Code which says “all promotions and lateral transfers follow from a considered decision as to the fitness of individuals, on merit, to undertake the duties concerned”. It is up to departments to decide how they will fill internal vacancies and what selection criteria they use.

Angela Sarkis
Civil Service Commissioner

 

The Civil Service Code and the status of civil servants

Paul from HMRC:

On 11 November 2010, the Civil Service provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 came into force.

Before this a footnote in the Civil Service Code said Civil servants were servants of the Crown (albeit that on a day to day basis this meant the Minister responsible for the department in which the Civil servant worked).

I notice that the Civil Service Code presented to Parliament pursuant to section 5 (5) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 did not include this footnote.

If Civil Servants remain Crown servants why remove that reference from the Code?

Paul, thank you for your interesting question on changes to the text of the Civil Service Code.

You are right that all versions of the Civil Service Code prior to the 2010 revision contained the explanation that constitutionally civil servants are servants of the Crown, and the Crown’s executive powers are exercised by the Government. The Code was revised following the implementation of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act (CRAG) in November 2010. The new version said that the statutory basis for the management of the Civil Service is set out in Part 1 of CRAG.

Before the implementation of CRAG in 2010 the Civil Service had been managed under the Royal Prerogative, not through statute. There was therefore no legislative description of the status of civil servants, and the drafters of the Code felt that there should be some description of the situation.  After November 2010 this was no longer necessary as the constitutional position of civil servants was now outlined in legislation.

Angela Sarkis
Civil Service Commissioner

 

CSC Independence / Grievances

Alex from DWP asks

Are those employed within CSC completely independent of the Department for Work and Pensions?

Can one raise a complaint on the handling and final outcome of the DWP complaints procedure? (DWP guidance states that this cannot be contested further once the final outcome decision has been made). If so, how does one submit a complaint to the CSC?

Thank you for your question Alex.

The Commission is independent of the Government and the Civil Service. Commissioners form the Board of the Commission and are recruited through fair and open competition for a five year term of office. There are currently twelve Commissioners, only one has had a substantive career in the Civil Service. The staff of the Commission are currently all civil servants on secondment.

The Commission can hear complaints from civil servants under the Civil Service Code – the ethical code for the Civil Service. We can also hear complaints from civil servants and members of the public if they believe that an external recruitment campaign to the Civil Service has not been conducted on merit after fair and open competition as the law requires. The Commission does not have a role in internal human resources management issues. These are handled through departments’ own internal grievance procedures. It does sound like this is what you are referring to.

I am afraid that it does not look as if the Commission can help you, but thank you again for your question.

Angela Sarkis
Civil Service Commissioner

 

Civil Service recruitment and diversity

Shahid from HMRC:

The Civil Service Commission is committed to the principle of appointment on merit:

We believe a diverse workforce, appointed on merit through a fair and transparent process, greatly enhances effectiveness and performance by better reflecting the aspirations, experiences and needs of the people they serve. The Civil Service Commission therefore promotes and supports efforts to get the best candidates drawn from a strong and diverse field.

So why doesn’t the Civil service and especially HMRC reflect multi-cultural Britain and why do we hear that:

• The Guardian 28/2/13; Civil service fast stream fails to recruit anyone of black Caribbean ethnicity.

David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, says the figures suggest “serial, institutional failure”.
That the 2011 figures “extraordinarily disappointing” – from 810 black applicants, just 10 appointed of African ethnicity
Lammy feels the fast stream recruitment figures for black applicants are out of step with those of other major public sector employers, as well private sector organisations like Marks & Spencer and John Lewis, and called for “serious action”. He said the civil service should get to grips with the issue. “This is really important because the civil service is charged with making policy across a range of issues in our country, and if the senior civil service, in the years ahead, is not reflective of our society, then I’m afraid we will make flawed policy,” he commented.

There have been consistent reports in HMRC of discrimination and the lack of Ethnic minorities both in middle Management and higher up confirms this. Not a single member of HMRC’s board is from an ethnic minority so how can they purpote to understand the problems minorities face?

Not that I expect anything tangible to be done as I have never heard the commission ever raise this issue but at least you are aware of the problem now.

Hello Shahid

We will always speak up if we think Departments are not recruiting on merit from the widest and most diverse fields of candidates. But, as I said in my reply to Mark (which you can see below), the picture on the Fast Stream is much improved over the last 10 years with 13% of recruits (at the last count in 2011) from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. The Commission is currently reviewing the scheme with diversity as one of our main concerns.

As for HMRC, I see that in the 2012 figures 7.8% of its staff declared as being from BME backgrounds. That is below the Civil Service average of 9.3%. But some Departments are way above this figure. The Treasury, for example, has over 16%. My old Department, the Home Office, has over 21%.

You are right, though, that the real issue in the Civil Service is the lack of diversity at middle and senior management. The picture is improving but only slowly. The Civil Service Commission only gets involved where there is external recruitment at these levels; we have no role in relation to internal promotions. That is where the current leadership needs to focus its efforts.

David Normington
First Civil Service Commissioner

 

Civil Service Recruitment and diversity

Mark from HMRC asks:

I was shocked to read the “Civil Service fails to recruit anyone of black Caribbean ethnicity” article in the Guardian Newspaper on 28 February 2013.  The article states that the Civil Service Fast Stream Programme failed to recruit a single person of black Caribbean ethnicity in 2011, despite receiving 130 applications.

And also that in 2010, the Civil Service rejected all 930 applicants of black African ethnicity for its fast stream scheme.

Do you agree that the senior civil service needs to be reflective of our society?

Hello Mark

We can never be complacent about diversity, but the picture on the Fast Stream is not as bad as the Press reports suggest. The Fast Stream has become increasingly diverse with 13% of recruits in 2011 (the last year for which figures are published) from a BME background, compared with 3.4% in 1998. Not all ethnic groups are equally represented, but in 2010 and 2011 several new recruits (not zero as in the press reports) were from a black Caribbean background each year. It is just that, when the figure is under 10, the Civil Service does not report the specific figure.

In the Commission we are taking one of our periodic looks at the Fast Stream at the moment and diversity is one of the issues we are focussing on. For us diversity and merit go hand in hand. We want to see new recruits appointed on merit, drawn from the widest and most diverse fields of candidates.

David Normington
First Civil Service Commissioner

 

Our first question of the day is from Alex in HMRC and relates to the principle of appointment on merit and internal transfers:

A while back I emailed the CSC about the issue of recruiting staff on merit, and under open and fair competition. Article 3 of the Civil Service Code clearly says that “as a civil servant, you are appointed on merit on the basis of fair and open competition…”. My question to the CSC about this principle was whether it also applied to internal appointments within the Civil Service, whether on level transfer or promotion. You are no doubt aware that adverts for Civil Service jobs state that successful candidates who are currently civil servants must have been – the emphasis being on the past tense – appointed to the Civil Service on merit, and under open and fair competition. The implication here is that the principles of merit and fair competition no longer apply to existing civil servants when applying for internal vacancies. The prompt reply I received from the CSC confirmed this was indeed the case, which is contrary to what Section 39(2)(b) of the Equality Act 2010 of the Equality Act 2010 has to say about affording opportunities for transfer or promotion . I know from my time within HMRC, that the vast majority of internal moves are made without reference to open and fair competition. The devices it uses are known as managed moves, level transfers and compulsory appointments – preferential treatment being given to people who have been assigned the spurious status of being in the ‘redeployment pool’.

With all of this in mind my question to you is this: Can you please confirm why the Civil Service only considers appointment on merit under open and fair competition applicable to persons applying to become civil servants and not to existing civil servants looking to progress their careers?

In a modern and fast moving world where appointing people with the right skills and experience is paramount, I can’t see why the principles of fairness and merit should be applied so restrictively.

Thank you for your question Alex.

The Civil Service Commission was set up specifically to ensure that recruitment to the Civil Service is on merit. We have no powers, unfortunately, in relation to internal moves and promotions, except at the very senior levels.

But Government Departments are governed by the Civil Service Management Code which says “all promotions and lateral transfers follow from a considered decision as to the fitness of individuals, on merit, to undertake the duties concerned”. There should be clear Departmental processes on promotions and lateral transfers which implement this requirement and provide an appeals process for those who are dissatisfied.

So merit is important for promotions and transfers. It’s just that there is no independent body, like the Commission, to check and report on it.

David Normington
First Civil Service Commissioner