Civil Service Commission

Open Week Wednesday 26 February

John from the Scottish Government, has some questions on secondments:

I have a couple of questions about the length of secondments. For a variety of reasons, my business area relies heavily on secondees (approximately half of all my marketing campaign managers) but because of the two-year rule we have to release them back to their home organisation just at that point that they are working at the top of the game and then start recruiting again from a relatively small pool (ie specialist marketing staff in other organisations). Most of our secondees tell us they would like to stay longer, if not permanently. Why does the two-year rule exist and can it be relaxed or scrapped altogether?  We have occasionally applied successfully to the Commission for short extensions but I have found the process very cumbersome. Can it be streamlined?

John, thank you for your interesting comments and questions about the use of secondments.

It is worth recalling the backdrop to the use of secondees: they are a permitted exception to the legal requirement that selection for the Civil Service is on merit on the basis of fair and open competition. The Civil Service Commission is permitted by law to provide for exceptions to this requirement, and secondees for up to two years are one of our permitted exceptions. This allows departments to bring in people with skills and experience from other organisations without going through open competition in a way that does not undermine the fundamental requirement for selection on merit.

What is not clear from your e-mail is what is preventing you advertising and recruiting on a permanent basis. If there is an on-going requirement, why can there not be an open competition to which your secondees, and others with the necessary skills, can apply?

As you say, the Commission can extend the two year limit if there is a good business case for this. I am sorry that you have found this process to be cumbersome. This is certainly not our intention and we would like to hear what your experience has been and how can improve our service.

The Commission is currently running a public consultation on our Recruitment Principles – the core document that gives our interpretation of the legal requirement of recruitment on merit on the basis of fair and open competition. I will make sure your comments are fed into that process. And if you want to make any more comments on the consultation document, which is available on our website, please do, but quickly, as the consultation period has been extended to this Friday, but most close then.

Thank you again for your question.

Angela Sarkis

Civil Service Commissioner


The following question comes from Laura, an MOJ employee:

I would like to ask how/why its allowed that temporary staff are made permanent when current permanent staff are overlooked/unable to apply for the position. This means that there are no opportunity for promotion and good hard working members are staff are stuck on the lowest grade.

This is something that personally happened to me (even though I passed a board for the position when it was first advertised). I think it’s disgusting that this is allowed to happen and that local managers couldn’t even give a suitable explanation as to why this happened.


Thank you for your question.

I cannot give you a detailed response without knowing more details, but you should be able to get answers from your local management or HR team.

Temporary workers can be recruited on merit through fair and open competition, and this meets the legal requirement for selection to the Civil Service. If this has happened, it is then possible to convert them to permanent employment.

If however they were brought in under one of the permitted exceptions to the merit requirement, they would have to participate in an open competition, and be successful in it, in order to become permanent.

Temporary workers brought in at old-style AA and AO grades to meet short term needs (under the exception for that purpose) can also be made permanent after 12 months, but it must be on the basis of a fair and objective process approved by the Commission.

The Commission does not have a role in regulating internal promotion but the Civil Service Management Code says promotion should be merit based.

Thank you for your message and I hope you can find some clearer answers from your local management.

Kathryn Bishop

Civil Service Commissioner


The following question comes from three colleagues working in NOMS:

I work as an Instructional Officer in the Industries section of NOMS.  My colleagues and I found out late last year we were to be put on a new contract early this year.  We were not allowed a say in whether this new contract should be implemented as we were not union members, only they could vote.  We have heard no more about how this is to be implemented or how it will impact on our current terms and conditions.  Members of the SMT where we work say they know nothing about this at all so have been unable to keep us updated during the year long negotiations.


Thank you for your question.

The Commission does not have any role in matters to do with terms and conditions and contractual arrangements so I am afraid we cannot help you.

I can only suggest that you keep pressing your local management for information. 

Angela Sarkis

Civil Service Commissioner


Andrew in DWP has a question about the future of the Commission:

With the current trend to outsource work to external contractors or agencies what are the long term prospects for the Civil Service Commission?


Good question, Andrew.   But there are still 450,000 civil servants and even during a recruitment freeze, recruitment has been running at between 12,000 and 20,000 a year.  So we are not out of a job yet, in terms of recruitment and selection.

As for our role in relation to the Civil Service Code, I have often wondered whether it might be possible to apply the Code’s requirements for impartiality, objectivity, honesty and integrity to external contractors.  But maybe that is impractical or a step too far?!

David Normington

First Civil Service Commissioner


Andrea has come back to us for clarification:

Could the response also pick up on the second point please around the use of social media in selection and potential or not for conflict with the principle of fair and open competition?



This is a developing area and I cannot give you a definitive answer.  We are inevitably cautious about using social media to aid selection because it is difficult to see how it can be fair and open (which is the legal requirement).  On the other hand, social media is a fact of life for many, particularly for younger people.  And we can’t just close our minds to its use or cut ourselves off from something which might be helpful.  I would be interested in your own view about this and from anyone else who has views about this subject. 

David Normington

First Civil Service Commissioner


Our first question of Day three of Open Week and it comes from Andrea in HMRC:

As we move towards a more digitally enabled environment, I am interested in the views of the Commissioners on the use of social media not only as a method of advertising a recruitment campaign but also it’s potential use in the selection process across the Civil Service.   



This is a really interesting comment.

The Commission’s main concern is that Civil Service recruitment should attract a strong and diverse field for every vacancy. This means keeping up with changing trends and going into whatever media have the best reach. Five years ago there was a debate about whether it was enough to do just on-line advertising, rather than in the print media. Now advertising in the print versions of newspapers is much less common.

So the answer to your question is, yes, there is potential to use social media for recruitment and it is likely to become more common. But the test is whether it reaches a strong and diverse pool of candidates for any specific vacancy.

David Normington

First Civil Service Commissioner