Civil Service Commission

Open Week Monday 24 February

Question number three is from Graeme in HMRC: 

I work for HMRC on a fix term agreement (FTA) and was wondering if you could look at the position regarding when staff on FTA contracts reach 4 years.

Myself and most of my colleagues working alongside me have around 3 years service record and have recently received 6 months extentions. We have been given indications that anybody who reaches 4 years will not be made permanent regardless of their previous status or performance.

I would like to propose that if somebody on an FTA contract reaches 4 years service and they at that point do not have any disciplinary action against they name that they automatically become a permanent member of staff with all the rights that this means.


Dear Graeme

Thank you for your question about the possible conversion of fixed term agreements (FTAs) to permanency. This is an area that causes some confusion, so your question is very welcome. I don’t know all the circumstances relating to you and your colleagues so I can’t offer advice on your particular situation, but you do raise an important general issue. 

The Civil Service Commission has been given the role by Parliament of defining what is meant by the statutory requirement that selection for recruitment to the Civil Service is ‘in merit on the basis of fair and open competition’. The law also allows the Commission to exempt some selections from this requirement, when that is justified by the needs of the Civil Service. Most of the exceptions we allow are time-limited to meet short term needs or to facilitate secondments and transfers into the Civil Service from some other public sector organisations; and departments have the delegated power to use them without referring back to the Commission, apart from at the most senior levels.

There is sometimes confusion about people brought in on FTAs. Some FTAs are recruited by exception, and some on merit through fair and open competition. The crucial issue is not the length or permanency of the contract, but whether it was in line with the Commission’s published Recruitment Principles. If someone was recruited on an FTA on merit through fair and open competition then the department has got the option to convert them to a permanent contract. I must stress this is an option: the department has no obligation to do this. If staff were not originally recruited on merit through a fair and open competition then usually they will have to go through this route before they can be offered a permanent post.

Thank you again for your question.

With best regards.


Andrew Flanagan

Civil Service Commissioner


Our next question is from Joanne in HMRC and is on the subject of headhunters:

I am interested on the views of Commissioners on the concept of “head hunting” for the most senior, specialised roles in the Civil Service.

I fully recognise the equality issues such an approach can bring, as well as the cost issues and it is not an approach I would see being used on a regular basis. However, where the recruitment market is small and the specialist skills are relatively niche – such as particular areas of tax, headhunting rather than advertising may be a more cost effective approach. 


Dear Joanne,

Thank for your question on the use of ‘head hunters’ (search consultants).

Search consultants are quite commonly used for senior competitions chaired by Civil Service Commissioners. It is for the recruiting department to decide whether to use them for any particular job vacancy. The Commission has found that good ‘head hunters’ can often reach a wider pool of candidates than just those who would have responded to an advert. We do try and be vigilant that ‘head hunters’ are reaching out widely and not just falling back on their established client lists. 

We publish on our website the following advice as part of a Q and A for departments managing senior competitions:

Is it a requirement that search consultants are used in senior appointments?
The use of search consultants is an option often considered. For many appointments it may be difficult to attract a strong field through advertising alone. A search can tap into a field of people who would not respond to an advertisement.

Ultimately the decision on whether or not to employ a search consultant rests with the appointing department. However, the Commissioner chairing the competition will want to understand how the consultant is expected to contribute to the competition and secure ‘a diverse field of strong candidates’. In cases where a department decides not to engage a search consultant the Commissioner will want to be satisfied that the prospects of securing ‘a diverse field of strong candidates’ remains high.

Thanks again for contributing to our Open Week.

With best regards.

Andrew Flanagan

Civil Service Commissioner


Our very first question comes from Philip in BIS and concerns the historical predominance of Oxbridge and private school education in Civil Service recruitment:

I am writing to ask whether, as part of Open Week/ review of CSC recruitment principles, you are carrying out any data analysis of:

i. What percentage of Permanent Secretaries and Board Members of a) Whitehall Departments and b) NDPBs were educated at Oxford or Cambridge universities;

ii. What percentage of Permanent Secretaries and Board Members of a) Whitehall Departments and b) NDPBs were educated at Public Schools and what % at State Schools; 

iii. What percentage of entrants to the Civil Service Fast Stream last year were

a) educated at Oxford or Cambridge universities; and/or

b) educated at public schools.

If so, how will you make this information available and how will this feed into the review.

If not, will you commission someone to obtain and analyse this data ?


Dear Philip

Thank you for your interesting series of questions.

You ask whether the Commission, as part of our open week or consultation on our Recruitment Principles, is carrying out a data analysis on the educational backgrounds of Permanent Secretaries, board members of Government Departments/NDPBs, and fast stream entrants to the Civil Service. We are not carrying out such a data analysis as part of these exercises; but as part of the public consultation are trying to ensure that our Recruitment Principles do provide clear guidelines to allow departments to devise recruitment processes which meet their business needs and which ensure that their recruitment is in line with the legal requirement of selection ‘on merit on the basis of fair and open competition’.

I think your questions really touch on two issues: how people are recruited to the Civil Service, and how they progress once they have been recruited. We have no involvement with internal promotion, apart from at the most senior levels (Director Generals and Permanent Secretaries). The issue of recruitment into the Civil Service is very much of concern to the Commission, We have tried in our redraft of the Recruitment Principles to ensure that when departments are recruiting to the Civil Service they concentrate on what are the essential requirements for a job, and design processes that test for these in a fair, consistent and unbiased manner.

You mention the Fast Stream, and may like to know that the Commission has just published a review of fast stream recruitment and selection. This is available on our website . The Cabinet Office also publishes an annual report on the fast stream schemes which contains information on the university backgrounds of all applicants and the success rates for each university, available at . I hope you will find these interesting. 

Thank you again for your questions. 



Andrew Flanagan

Civil Service Commissioner