Civil Service Commission

Open Week Friday 28 February

We have received a detailed e-mail from David who raises a number of issue and concerns about his own department. Many of these issues are not however, covered by the Commission’s regulatory remit.:

 He questions whether the department lives up to its obligations, and follows its own procedures, on supporting staff with mental health challenges. He also comments that internal change happens so often that it indicates a lack of strategic planning. A side effect of constant change is, he suggests, that the favoured view are repeatedly promoted, with limited career opportunities for the majority of staff. Selection procedures are ad hoc and lack quality assurance and objectivity. There is often an over reliance on computer tests He feels that the department fail to utilise the full potential of staff, many of whom have had successful careers outside the Civil Service, and who have skills and experiences that are not utilised. David believes that the department fails to reward original thinking and operates with less professionalism than private sector organisations. Despite constant internal change, it fails to respond with enough speed to external change.



Thank you for your detailed e-mail. We cannot respond in Open Week to individual cases, and much of what you raise falls outside the remit of the Commission, but you do raise a number of important issues. I would particularly like to pick up on the diversity theme in your e-mail. The Commission pushes departments to really concentrate on what the requirements of any particular role are, rather than continued recruitment against a job and person specification that is retained unchanged over many years. Once this proper analysis has been done, for external recruitment, there needs to be a proper consideration of how a diverse field of strong candidates can be generated. Recruitment and selection is just one of many areas where departments should be really pushing, as you say, to think ‘outside of the box’. Disability is one important strand of diversity, and I am sorry to hear that you do not believe that your department is living up to its policies in this area, are there any internal networks you can use to challenge the department on this?

Thank you again for contribution to Open Week and I hope thing improve for you on some of the issues you have raised.

Wanda Goldwag

Civil Service Commissioner


David, from HMPO, has the following question / suggestions:

We have recently recruited PO3s to our evening shift, these jobs were advertised as part time / part year.

Subsequently a number of those recruited have been offered full time full year contracts.

My question is this:-

If we are to be a fair and open competition employer, should they have been advertised as full time, this may have resulted in a better class of candidate.

Should the full time posts have also then been advertised internally (within the civil service) to allow people to apply for promotion or sideways moves from other departments.

Finally would doing things such as this either harm or assist our Investor In people award in which we gained silver, I feel being more fair and open by advertising full time posts as full time and part time as part time would help us to achieve a gold award, presuming there is one.




Thank you for your quite detailed question, which I think requires a quite technical answer.

The Civil Service Commission’s Recruitment Principles interpret the legal requirement that selection for the Civil Service must be ‘open’ as meaning that potential candidates should be given reasonable access to information about the job and its requirements, and about the selection process.  So, if there are a number of roles available, some part time, some full time, the information for candidates should make that clear. ‘Open’ also means that it a vacancy is advertised publically then anyone can apply – non-civil servants and existing civil servants.

However, having recruited a number of part time staff, if full time positions become vacant later on, then it is for the department to follow its own process to fill those vacancies.  We regulate appointments to the Civil Service, not internal movements or promotion:  changes to the contract of existing civil servants (lateral transfers, promotions etc) are HR matters, and the HR team must follow the Civil Service Management Code which says:

“6.4.1   Departments and agencies have authority to determine promotion and lateral transfer arrangements for their own staff, subject to the following conditions.

6.4.2    Departments and agencies must ensure that:

a.         all promotions and lateral transfers follow from a considered decision as to the fitness of individuals, on merit, to undertake the duties concerned;

b.         the design and development of their promotion and lateral transfer systems reflect any guidance and principles of good practice issued by the Cabinet Office in consultation with departments and agencies;

c.         their own promotion and lateral transfer procedures are clearly set out in departmental and agency staff handbooks…”

The Commission cannot provide expert advice on Investors in People accreditation, but among the many things it covers are included:

  • There is equality of opportunity for development and support
  • The recruitment process is fair, efficient and effective
  • A diverse, talented workforce is created
  • The structure makes the most of people’s talents

So, as long as your HMPO lateral transfer arrangements met those principles, they should not harm your IIP accreditation.  I suggest you contact your HR team and ask them what their policy is on filling vacancies using existing staff on lateral transfer.

Thank you again for your e-mail.

Adele Biss

Civil Service Commissioner


Paul from DCLG has these observations and a question:

A couple of observations

  • In my humble opinion the current promotion process seems to have become more about the art of how competences are crafted (being described by one recruiter I dealt with recently as a competence within its own right by a Director General who had given him feedback) rather than whether someone has the genuine experience and skills to do a job well. The emphasis on what “I” did feels phoney in scenarios where we are rightly working in teams, sometimes across departments. There is the temptation to exaggerate, which surely happens. Is there a perverse incentive not to work effectively in teams to carve out a niche? I’m not sure this has any easy answers but doesn’t feel right and I’m sure that many good people have walked away because of disillusionment with the system.
  • Mid-year and end of year reviews are becoming an industry in their own right, but with unsatisfactory outcomes. The quota system for box markings seems somewhat unfair – being a victim of this nonsense in the last mid year review. My self-assessment, based on the objectivity of competence framework, seems to have been disregarded and overridden by assertions of a subjective Manager and a moderation process involving people who either didn’t feel able to speak up or didn’t have a clue about what I did or how I did it.

It would be good for the Commission to follow up UK Statistic authority rebukes of Ministers who are producing misleading statements and manipulating figures and statistics (eg I’m aware of these Grant Shapps and Iain Duncan-Smith on benefits data, Owen Patterson/PM on flood defence funding). Have SpAds and Press Officers been colluding with them and what will the Commission do to highlight where this has been going on and introduce discipline against those involved? Surely the Civil Service Code is being broken in these instances and yet I am not aware of any action being taken by the Commission.


Thank you for your e-mail which contained a couple of observations and a question. Your observations are on the important subjects of internal promotion processes and performance management. The Commission has not been given regulatory responsibilities in these areas so it would not be appropriate for me to comment.

Your question relates to the Civil Service Code, and you suggest that the Commission should follow up the UK Statistics Authority’s comments on certain statements by Ministers. As you are probably aware, Parliament has given the Commission the authority to investigate concerns raised by civil servants under the Civil Service Code. When Parliament was debating the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act in 2010 it considered an amendment that would have allowed the Commission to instigate its own enquiries. However this amendment was not passed and the situation remains that the Commission needs to have received a complaint from a civil servant before it can consider whether it is appropriate for it to investigate.

Thank you again for your contribution to our Open Week.

Wanda Goldwag
Civil service Commissioner


An interesting question:

If an individual has a complaint about a commissioner how do they register it please?


The Commission’s complaint handling procedure is published on our website .

The procedure allows complaints to be submitted by a number of different routes, but if you do wish to submit a complaint about one of the Commissioners or about a member of staff within the Commission’s Secretariat I suggest that you send it directly to me at

Clare Salters

Chief Executive, Civil Service Commission


We received the following question on our Facebook page:

Would it be unusual these days for three brothers to work in the same department even if they were all on fixed term appointments?  When I first started 22 years ago, things were more strict – if there was a hint of a relationship one of the parties had to be moved.  Now anything goes – parent and child in the same building – but funnily enough no job for my civil partner.  


Civil servants have by law to be recruited ‘on merit on the basis of fair and open competition’, or through one of the limited number of exceptions allowed by the Civil Service Commission.

 Members of the same family do of course sometimes work in the same department, but the same requirement for selection on merit through fair and open competition, or through the appropriate use of one of the permitted exceptions, applies as it does to any other civil servants. Speaking personally, if I was a senior manager with a number of members of the same family working visibly together, I would want to assure myself that all the rules that apply to Civil Service recruitment had been followed and that reporting lines and accountabilities were appropriate and seen to be so.

 Thank you for your question.

 Dame Moira Gibb

Civil Service Commissioner