Civil Service Commission

CSC Open Week Monday 18 March - Questions and Answers

Reinstatement of former civil servants

Joanne from DH asks:

I have a question I would like to ask – I am currently working as a temp at the Department of Health. However I was previously an established civil servant, from 1981 -1988 in the Department of the Environment and from 1990-2007 in DETR and DEFRA. I have a lot of experience which i feel would be useful to the Dept I am currently working in as they have recruitment issues filling generalist civil service posts below G7 in London. They are not recruiting at the moment because they have displaced staff due to the NHS reforms, and ebcause of the general recruitment freeze.

My question is: given my previous experience, can I be considered for reinstatement? I was previously an SEO but currently working as an HEO. If not, have the commissioners given any thought as to the waste of talent and experience this causes? I believe I am a better employee now because of the 5 years I spent working in the not-for-profit and local government sectors from 2007-2012, and can bring that experience to bear to DH’s benefit.

I have been advised that some depts have a 3 year or 5 year time period during which they will consider reinstatement. My previous Dept (Defra) will not consider reinstatement at all.

Many thanks in advance for your help

Dear Joanne

Thank you for your question on reinstatement of former civil servants, which does raises an interesting issue that is of concern to many people.

The Civil Commission’s powers (under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010) relate to recruitment into the Civil Service; specifically to provide assurance that recruitment into the Civil Service is on merit on the basis of fair and open competition as the law requires.
The law does allow the Civil Service Commission to exempt some appointments from the requirement to appoint on merit on the basis of fair and open competition when this is justified by the needs of the Civil Service.

The Commission believes that reinstatement is one of the circumstances where an exception to the general legal requirement is justified. The Civil Service invests a great deal into the training and development of its staff, and that investment should not be unnecessarily wasted. However, this has to be balanced against the need to refresh the Civil Service with new skills and experience. The Commission has agreed an exception that allows departments to reinstate a civil servant who had previously been appointed on merit through fair and open competition if it is within 5 years of them leaving, and they are coming back at a grade no higher than when they left.

This seems to us to strike the right balance. It is of course for departments to decide whether they wish to apply this exception.

Eliza Hermann
Civil Service Commissioner

 

The Civil Service Commission and public awareness

Pat from BIS asks:

Great that you are holding an open week aimed at both the public and civil servants. My questions relate to this.

Given the importance of civil servants in running the machinery of government and the impact of that machinery upon citizens’ lives, does the public need to know about the CSC’s role?

And if the public do (which I think they do), how will the CSC ensure ongoing visibility and need for their role with the public, as well as the public’s understanding of why it is important to them?

Dear Pat,

Thanks for your positive feedback on our Open Week. We have had some interesting questions already and I hope you will be able to keep an eye on our website as we post the questions and our answers.

Your question is a good one: is it important that the public understands the role of the Civil Service Commission and if so, how do we ensure ongoing visibility?

This is something that we have specifically considered as part of a review of our communications activity over the past year. Although we are a small organisation with limited resources, we agreed that we should raise our profile in public when there is a reason to do so. Following on from the publication of the Government’s Reform Plan in June last year there was considerable media comment on the Civil Service, some of which touched on the Commission’s role in ensuring recruitment to the Civil Service is on merit on the basis of fair and open competition. We thought it was important that the Commission explained its role and its approach to its statutory responsibilities in relation to the most senior recruitment to the Civil Service, and we issued several press items accordingly. The News items on our website reflect various initiatives the Commission has taken since then.

http://civilservicecommission.independent.gov.uk/news/

Our Open Week is of course another way to try and set up a dialogue, both with civil servants and the general public. The Commission is based in London, though individual Commissioners are widely dispersed throughout the United Kingdom, from Scotland to the west country. We are conscious that most civil servants are not in London (83% work outside London) and of course most people do not live in London. So a virtual Open Week seemed to be a good way of starting a dialogue with civil servants and members of the public across the country.

If you feel there are other ways in which we should be reaching out to the wider public, we would very much like to hear them.

Eliza Hermann
Civil Service Commissioner

 

Transfer out of the Civil Service

Jane from the Land Registry asks

I would like to know what assurances you can give me that I will not lose my status as a Civil Servant when the Land Registry changes its trading fund status as proposed in the latest business strategy, it is only a couple of years since the last Accelerated Transformation Plan, the constant uncertainty is very bad for morale, if they want to get the best from staff the board should stop imposing this continual change on staff.

Dear Jane,

Thank you for your question.

It can be very unsettling when the future of your employer is unclear, and change seems to be happening at an ever-increasing rate. But I am afraid that the issues you raise do not fall under the remit of the Civil Service Commission.

The Commission’s powers (under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010) relate to recruitment into the Civil Service; not organisational management, including the transfer of functions out of the Civil Service. We do also have a role in hearing complaints under the Civil Service Code, the ethical code that outlines the values of the Civil Service, but again the issues you raise are not covered by the Code.

As you may be aware, the law on Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) – also known as TUPE – provides protection for employees’ terms and conditions of employment when a business is transferred from one owner to another. My understanding is that there would be discussions with the staff and unions if any part of the Civil Service was subject to a change of ownership.

Thank you again for your question.

Eliza Hermann
Civil Service Commissioner

 

We received a question from Ringo in HMRC about the appointment of Non-Executive Directors

Ringo

Thank you for your question. Non-executive directors are not civil servants and therefore their recruitment and duties are not a matter for the Civil Service Commission. The Cabinet Office and HM Treasury have published a joint code of good practice for corporate governance in central government departments that states that the appointment of non-executives should follow the principle of selection based on merit; and that candidates must demonstrate that they understand and are committed to the seven principle of public life:

http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/corporate_governance_good_practice_guidance_july2011.pdf

Professor Christine Hallett
Civil Service Commissioner

 

Jargon in job adverts

A civil servant asked:

Whilst reviewing the Civil Service jobs website and with particular reference to MOD vacancies, I was struck by the amount of ‘MOD jargon’ used for the roles being advertised and unless you are working there, you are at a disadvantage from the outset trying to understand what the job in question involves.  This does not seem to be in the spirit of fair competition.  Writing in plain English should be a pre-requisite when these adverts are drawn up.  With the Civil Service moving towards a new performance management system for all Departments from 1 April, can consideration be given to job adverts reflecting the objective competencies and behaviours of this system as well?

Thank you for your question.  I think the point that you make about the use of jargon in adverts and job specifications is a good one.  If the MOD, or any other Department, is looking to recruit staff they may miss out on some really talented candidates if if their communication is not clear.  When a senior Civil Service job is opened up to external candidates I, or one of my fellow Commissioners, will chair the selection panel.  At senior levels adverts are usually aimed at a wider audience and I find they are usually clear.  But perhaps with less senior posts, the same amount of time is not taken to ensure they are intelligible to those outside the Department. 

I am the ‘Link Commissioner’ for the MOD – the main Commissioner contact with the Department – and I will make sure that your point is passed on to the HR Director, anonymously as you request.  The number of acronyms in the MOD and the Armed Forces is huge and I certainly struggle to understand them.

I agree that as the Civil Service has adopted a new performance management system, the new competencies should be reflected in recruitment advertising.  The Commission has a regular liaison meeting with HR Directors from some of the major Departments and I will make sure that this point is passed on to them.

Thank you again for your question.

Dame Moira Gibb
Civil Service Commissioner

 

Our first question of the week is about the Civil Service Code and working with industry

Sameen in HM Treasury asked:

Civil servants are increasingly being asked to work closely with industry, usually through their representative bodies, particularly on technical matters and often in areas where the Government needs to formulate policy to represent the UK’s position externally, such as in Europe.  Will the Commission undertake to review the working of the Civil Service Code in the development of rules and regulations of technical matters and issue guidance as to how we engage with industry without undermining the core values of the Code?  It would also be helpful to obtain examples of good practice drawn from across the world which could answer the following questions:

(a) Should Departments ensure impartiality through building up our own independent analytical capacity?

(b) Should Departments ensure all analysis and research that informs legislation is publicly available – as in new Zealand?

(c) Should Departments ensure Civil Service pay does not diverge too far from median pay at a grade level to ensure skill gaps do not emerge in technical areas and mitigate potential conflicts of interest which emerge as private sector career opportunities become more attractive in the chosen policy field or specific major projects? (Canada)

Dear Sameen

Thanks for getting Open Week off to a flying start with an interesting question.

I don’t see any contradiction between the Code and the need for civil servants to work closely with industry bodies on technical matters.  Civil servants have always had to engage with outside bodies and seek advice on very technical matters – indeed they can’t do their jobs without doing so.  What the Code says is those dealings must be carried out with integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality.  In other words, civil servants must look at the evidence objectively, take decisions on the merits of the case and advise Ministers honestly and truthfully.

On your other questions, we don’t have the resources in the Commission to do lots of comparative studies.  That is the job of the Cabinet Office with responsibility for Civil Service reform.  They have commissioned some work from IPPR on lessons from other systems, which I assume, will be published.  And you may have seen the interesting recent announcement about setting up some evidence-based policy centres, which is very much about improving the analysis and research underpinning policy development.  You can find details on the Cabinet Office website in a press release on 4 March.

David Normington
First Civil Service Commissioner