Civil Service Commission

CSC Open Week Wednesday 21 March Questions and Answers

Bullying and harassment.

A civil servant from the Driving Standards Agency asks:

In an agency that uses bullying, harassment and intimidation as standard management practice, what can the Civil Service Commission do to protect a member of staff who raises an issue under the Civil Service Code?

Thank you for your question which does raise some serious concerns about behaviours in some parts of the Civil Service

Bullying, harassment and intimidation are not acceptable behaviours in any organisation, and certainly should not be exhibited by managers.

The Civil Service Code itself gives you the right, as a civil servant, to raise a concern if you believe that the values in the Code are not being followed. The Civil Service Code states clearly that it the responsibility of your department/agency to consider your concern and make sure you are not penalised for raising it. Each department or agency should have a number of Nominated Officers who can give independent advice to staff on Code concerns and help them to raise their concerns within the organisation. Your HR contact should be able to tell you who they are. The Commission has a very specific role in relation to the Code. If someone has raised a concern through the accepted departmental procedures and not received what they consider to be a reasonable response, they can come to us. We provide a route of appeal, if you like. The Commission can also take complaints direct if we consider that is the right thing to do. Our website has got guidance on how to bring a complaint to the Commission

Even if an issue is not one that falls under the Code, departments should have robust grievance procedures in place and staff should be able to raise concerns without fear of suffering a detriment. However, if such a culture does exist, raising a concern under the Code may be the only effective way to have it addressed.

The Commission is determined to do all it can to protect the right of civil servants to raise concerns under the Civil Service Code and have them heard. When hearing concerns, even if we don’t find a breach of the values has occurred, if we believe the internal process has failed in some way we will say so and challenge it in making our recommendations.

I hope you can find a way of getting your concerns addressed.

With best wishes

Neil McIntosh
Civil Service Commissioner


The Civil Service Code and members of the public.

William from the Home Office asks:

Thank you for providing this valuable opportunity to ask questions of the Commissioners.

I note that one of the two key functions of the Commission is to hear and determine complaints raised by civil servants under the Civil Service Code. Does this function extend to hearing and determining complaints raised by members of the public where they believe that a Civil Servant has not acted in accordance with the Civil Service Code? If not, why not? I am a civil servant in the Home Office and have had dealings as a member of the public with an official in DWP whom I can evidence has not acted in accordance with the Code.

Thank you.

An interesting question, William.

The legislation only allows us to hear complaints about breaches of the Code from civil servants. I think this is because members of the public have alternative ways of making complaints, particularly through the Ombudsman.

It would certainly change the Commission’s role fundamentally if we were given the power to hear complaints from the public.

David Normington
First Civil Service Commissioner


Recruitment to the Civil Service – the use of exceptions and personal patronage.

A civil servant in the Cabinet Office asks:

I wonder if you can clarify the rules around recruitment into the SCS from the private sector.

Our team has had an influx of people from the private sector over the last three years, mostly on the personal recommendation of a senior manager, himself a joiner from the private sector.

Are there ways by which personal preference can bypass traditional competition? And are these roles considered permanent posts or do they have strict timeframes?

I look forward to your reply.

Thank you. It is an important question and goes to the heart of why the Civil Service Commission exists.

The basic principle (now in primary legislation) is that civil servants should be appointed on merit after fair and open competition. We do have the power to grant exceptions to this where it can be justified by the needs of the Civil Service. So we do allow for time-limited appointments without competition to meet short-term needs or to bring in staff with highly specialist skills and experience. In all cases the appointment is limited to a maximum of two years and can only be extended with the explicit agreement of the Commission. You can read the full list of exceptions in Annex C of our ‘Recruitment Principles’

We keep a close watch on departments’ use of these exceptions. They are there to provide managers with sensible flexibilities, not to enable people to exercise personal patronage or favouritism.

David Normington
First Civil Service Commissioner


We have an interesting question from Peter at the MOD concerning the employment of disabled ex servicemen and women in the Civil Service:

The role of the Civil Service Commission is to provide assurance that selection to the Civil Service is made on merit on the basis of fair and open competition. However, this concept which is most praise worthy, curtails the employment of those who have been ordered by the government into conflicts around the globe. This can result in severe physical disabilities. I refer of course to the military and the many images we have seen of limbless service personnel.

From a joined up government perspective, would it not be sensible to make a special case for these people and give them a special route into Civil Service employment?

You may argue that they can apply as an external candidate but that misses the point. It was the government that sent them on operations in the first place and it is the same government that employees Civil Servants. There are many different jobs undertaken by Civil Servants and from an average UK citizen’s perspective it would seem both logical and sensible to ensure that these people are treated differently and given every opportunity to transfer their skills into worthwhile employment.

I urge the commissioners to seek a solution which ensures that we look after those we, as a nation, have put in harms way and then they have ended up with a physical disability from enemy action.

Peter, thank you for your question about the very important issue of the employment of disabled ex servicemen and women in the Civil Service.

As you say, one of the roles of the Civil Service Commission is to uphold the legal requirement that entry into the Civil Service is on merit on the basis of fair and open competition. This is an important principle and one of the foundations of our impartial Civil Service. However the Commission has long recognised that there can be strong reasons why in special circumstances exceptions can be made to this principle. One of these is to promote the employment of disabled people.

The Commission is required by law to publish its Recruitment Principles which give our definition of what is meant by ‘merit on the basis of fair and open competition’ and also describes the exceptions that are allowed. Exception number 8 is ‘The recruitment of disabled people who are in a government scheme to promote the employment of disabled people (currently entitled “Work Choice”) or to sponsor internships for disabled people’. Government departments and agencies can apply this exception themselves for all jobs below SCS pay-band 2 (above that level they have to come to the Commission for our permission). The Commission has recognised that the recruitment of people with disabilities can be a good reason for applying an exception to the principles of selection on merit. It is for the Government to decide how this can best be used to support ex-service men and women who have been disabled in serving their country.

I hope that sets out the current position clearly. However the importance of your contribution is such that I shall share your views with my fellow Commissioners when we meet together and I would also suggest that you might care to raise this with your local MP.

Thank you again for your question.

With best wishes.

Neil McIntosh
Civil Service Commissioner


Rod, from National Records of Scotland has sent a follow up to yesterday’s question and answer about Civil Service pension reform and political impartiality:

Thanks for the quick response. If I may, “similar phrases” doesn’t really capture the outrage many civil servants felt on reading the Head of the Civil Service’s message. I would expect our leader to be scrupulously impartial in describing what is, by any reckoning, a severe attack on pensions and terms and conditions by an employer. To use direct quotations from ministers seems to me not only partial, clearly political and inflammatory, but to align civil servants’ own employer with a government which is ideologically opposed to the public sector. In effect, the head of our profession appears to be colluding with one (and only one) set of political masters against his own workforce. There is a broad range of opposition to the coalition policies on pensions – why are we being ‘reassured’ that the views of those doing the attacking are correct?

I am very disappointed by this answer, though grateful for it.


I don’t think I want to change my view about Sir Bob’s comments. That doesn’t imply that the Civil Service Commission agrees or disagrees with them. Civil Service pension reform, about which civil servants understandably have strong views, are well outside the Commission’s remit.

David Normington
First Civil Service Commissioner


and a further follow up from Shahid:

I could refer you to the direct reference made by David Lammy to Marks & Spencer and John Lewis but having worked in Tesco’s and Morrison’s as a manager and in various other privates sector companies in my college days ranging from McDonalds, Burger King etc (The list is endless) I can safely say there was visibly more representation at management level from ethnic minorities.

In fact, in the 3 years working for McDonalds throughout the West End from Oxford Street to Leicester Square in the 90’s, I saw more Black and Asian Store and line managers than White ones!

We must remember that as Civil servants, we serve the public. If we do not represent the local population, we will not always understand our customers or be able to serve them in the best way. Further, if we are to be a truly word class organisation as Sir Bob Kerslake and Lin Homer aspire to, we need to lead the way rather than follow. We have some really good policies in place i.e. flexi working and the diversity networks in HMRC, which are great for helping all kinds of diverse groups; it would be a shame if we can’t deliver on a true representation of the workforce.

I hope this helps but please come back to me if you have further questions/comments.


I don’t think we disagree. There are some companies, like some Government Departments, which are better than others. But generally the position on diversity at middle and senior management across a range of public and private sector organisations, though improving, is not good enough. I entirely agree with the sentiment in your third paragraph.

David Normington
First Civil Service Commissioner


Our first question today, is  a follow up one from Shahid in HMRC on the subject of diversity:

Thank you for your reply and clarification of the commission’s position.

While I note that 7.8% of HMRC employees are from BAME, you are aware that these are predominately in the lower clerical grades. It is commendable that other departments have a higher ratio of BAME staff but what percentage are in management and aren’t they simply reflecting the population they work in?

Further, we also know from the CRE report in 2007 that 14 Civil service departments did not comply with their legal obligations for equality.

So, while progress may be being made slowly, I think we can agree that as a whole, Civil service management does not reflect our society, has not changed as quickly as other organisations and is slow in implementing equality.


I agree with you that there is a long way to go. But where is the evidence that other sectors have made more progress in creating a more diverse middle and senior management? There are some charities and some parts of the health service which have made more progress but where else?

David Normington
First Civil Service Commissioner