Civil Service Commission

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Good morning and welcome to Day 3 of Open Week.  Our first question comes from the MOD:

Good morning, Your open week is very timely, thank you.

My husband is currently considering raising a concern/complaint to the Civil Service Commission with regard to an external recruitment campaign run by the MOD. I realise that you cannot comment upon individual cases however can you please advise the process involved and what the potential outcome could be?

Additionally would you perceive that discounting previous service from 20 years previously as indirect discrimination?


Thank you for your Question.

Before the Commission will consider a complaint, the complainant must first officially complain to the recruiting Department concerned explaining why s/he believes that a recruitment process has breached the legal requirement of appointment on merit following a fair and open competition.  If, once the complaint has been investigated by the Department, s/he remains dissatisfied, s/he may refer the matter to the Commission.  We will ask the complainant to provide a copy of their final adjudication from the Department.  We will then contact the Department to obtain any necessary information to investigate the case.  Two Civil Service Commissioners will then consider the case and we will issue a findings document to both the Department and the complainant.

If a complaint is upheld, the Commission can:

  • make recommendations to the department or agency and ask how it will resolve the situation;
  • request a written apology and seek assurances that action is being taken;
  • publicise the nature of the complaint, in an anonymised form, in its Annual Report;
  • issue a public statement where it has very strong concerns about the seriousness with which an organisation is taking its recommendations.

The Commission cannot order:

  • the payment of compensation;
  • a department or agency to apologise to a complainant;
  • that an individual be appointed or that an appointment be terminated.

Please see our guide to bringing a complaint under the Recruitment Principles for your information:

At this stage I am afraid that I would not be able to comment further on the case.  Issues of discrimination should generally be pursued under the relevant legislation and may not be in scope for our consideration.

Best regards,

Ian Watmore
First Civil Service Commissioner



Our next question comes from Olivia who works at the MOD:


I recently applied for a new role within the MOD, which is now using the ‘blind’ recruitment forms. I was asked not to give any information that would indicate my gender, ethnicity or age; which in principle I support. The form, however, requested the dates of any qualifications I had received – which gives away my age. I have also done a lot of voluntary work with Girl guiding and as I have gained many skills from this I include it on my applications. This means that my gender was then also revealed. I am a 26 year old female, but work in a department that has an average age of 45 and is roughly 70% male, so I know that these details make me stand out, for good or ill. I do not want to be judged on these characteristics, but attempting to hide them appears to make them more obvious.  

Is there a better way than censoring our own applications that the recruitment process can be made fair and equal for everyone, thus encouraging both diversity and social mobility?



Thank you for your question.

The adoption of name blind recruitment has led to some interesting comment so far in Open Week.

When it was announced last year that the Civil Service was moving to name blind recruitment as the default option we were very supportive of this move

However I agree that asking for the date that you received your qualifications is very likely to give the selection panel information from which an informed guess could be made of your age. I think the Commission should pass this observation on to the MoD.

The question of how you describe your experience in Girlguiding is a bit more difficult. It is potentially very relevant experience to include in your applications, so you should not be censoring it. Could you describe it in a gender-neutral way, possibly ‘a high-profile nationwide youth organisation’, or maybe as ‘Scouts/Guides’ to leave open the possibility it could be either.

It is one of the Commission’s top priorities to help the Civil Service improve diversity, of all types, to truly reflect the nation. We will be working with Civil Service leaders to find the best ways of ensuring recruitment does really attract the best applicants from all backgrounds.

Best wishes,

Angela Sarkis
Civil Service Commissioner


We have just received the following question from Hitesh:


As a civil servant who has applied for various roles I am very disappointed in the way the process is run with the length of time it takes to carry out the sift from the closing date.

As an example, I applied for a role with the VOA with a closing date of 31st August 2016 and they are still conducting the sift!  I declined one interview because of the time it took from closing to interview.

I have now finished with the Civil Service and taken a post in the private sector.


Thank you for bringing your concerns about recruitment campaigns to the Civil Service Commission.

I can appreciate that it must be frustrating to await a response to an application made several months ago. The Commission will pass your concerns to the VOA. It may be helpful if you provided the name of the campaign or the vacancy number in order for us to follow up in an accurate way.

It could of course be possible that the VOA received a large number of applications and is sifting carefully in order to establish a strong and robust merit list, as required by the Recruitment Principles.  A volume of applications can sometime take a while to process efficiently.

I wish you all the best in your new role.

Best wishes

Angela Sarkis
Civil Service Commissioner


We have just received this from Julie at the MOD:

I think an invitation to comment on recruitment is as great way to get a “feel” of the mood within our community.

I’ve worked for several Government Departments across Whitehall and in the Regions, from the old DTI to current MoD Overseas today and feel that I have had enough experience to justify comments below.

  1. There is enough breadth and depth of public service to positively sell a long term career as a civil servant but not all staff feel this way.
  2. I think it’s because most see the only alternative to “their job” as with an outside employer, usually as a contractor in the private or charity/community sector rather than seeking opportunities in other Departments as their first choice.
  3. From personal experience each move I’ve made has added value to my skill set and transferred benefits to jobs I’ve taken in other Departments.
  4. The Civil Service jobs site has been a key facilitator of my own mobility across Depts. It’s helped me manage my own career path and is a key asset to managing the whole service.
  5. Could we better exploit the wider talent pool within and make is easier and / or more desirable for staff to accept a new challenge across the service rather than leave?
  6. I have found that jumping ship from a comfy known Dept. into a brand new one is always a leap of faith. However, I add that without facing this “stretch” I would not have developed the resilience or confidence that I am able to employ today.
  7. I also note that some of my mobility was prompted by job loss, or when I’ve been at risk of redundancy. Would it not have been better if I’d had these experiences as part of a career pathway or scheme?
  8. So my plea to you is how can you put measures in place that assist all employees to equip themselves with the flexibility and resilience to take on new challenges across a modern Civil Service?
  9. What about investing in an equitable scheme that develops those that need it, rather than those who are naturally gifted/already have skills required. For example, you have to compete for a place in Fast Stream or similar programme before you can “develop”. To help level the playing field for some groups considered at disadvantage, would it be better to fund their skills gap with the only application criteria being a commitment to learn?
  10. Surely a civil service “development scheme” should target any employee who is willing to take on a new challenge as long as it is affordable and brings benefits back to the workplace? This would be a great morale boost and may prevent posts being filled by external candidates which, with a 30% cut looming, could put another “unskilled” civil servant at risk of redundancy.
  11. The only negative I’ve experienced is that having to change staff numbers is a pain for banking/bills and I’ve had a few awkward weeks of zero pay while each HR sorts out who owns me. So removing some of the pay barriers might also help improve access to an already competitive jobs market.
  12. Let’s up skill all our existing staff and build a talented, flexible, responsive Civil Service!



Thank you for your very detailed comments.

It is great to hear that you have been able to develop your career through challenging yourself and taking on new roles in unfamiliar departments.

There are a lot of really good points in your e-mail about movement within the Civil Service, learning and development. These fall outside the direct responsibility of the Civil Service Commission, but I think they will be of great interest to Rupert McNeil, the Civil Service’s Chief People Officer. We will send your message on to Rupert who I am sure will read it with interest.

I think everybody involved in Civil Service selection and staff development will agree with your last point: we should all be striving to help to build a talented, flexible, responsive Civil Service.

With very best regards.

Angela Sarkis
Civil Service Commissioner





Monday 21 November 2016

Tuesday 22 November 2016