PRESS NOTICE 20 July 2020

The independent Civil Service Commission, which regulates Civil Service appointments to provide assurance that they are made on merit after fair and open competition, published its annual report for 2019 – 20 today. 

The annual report contains a range of statistics and information about the Commission’s work including: 

- 39,654 people were recruited to the Civil Service through open and fair competition this year, down 21.5% on the previous year 

- Commissioners chaired 161 competitions at senior levels this year, down from 197 in the previous year. 

- Black and minority ethnic candidates made up 19% of people recruited (SCS Pay band 2 and below) in 2019 – 2020, down from 20% in the previous year 

- where declared 6% of people recruited reported having a disability. 

- 97 Code appeals received this year. 

Ian Watmore, First Civil Service Commissioner, said: 

“The scale of the challenge faced by the government and the Civil Service in dealing with the global Covid-19 pandemic has never been seen in peacetime. Civil servants across the country are playing their part, actively serving the government to deliver its priorities and support citizens and businesses through this time of crisis. Website 

“As the regulator, the Commission responded to help departments to continue to recruit and deploy front line staff quickly in line with the Recruitment Principles, producing guidance for Departments to answer emerging recruitment questions and approving significant appointments by Exceptions within hours where necessary. 

“This year there has been fewer recruitment competitions chaired by Civil Service Commissioners for posts at senior levels (161 in 19-20 compared to 197 in the previous year). This is likely to be a consequence of both the December 2019 election, when appointments tend to slow, and a return to more usual levels of recruitment following EU exit. There were 7,146 applicants for those 161 posts, demonstrating that working in the Civil Service continues to be a highly attractive career. 

“And while the data shows some improvement this year in the proportion of some diverse groups from application to interview to being found appointable by the panel, there are still questions around why the progress of all candidates is not proportionally similar. Supporting departments to improve the diversity of their staff is one of the Commission’s strategic objectives. It’s clear that departments need to do more, especially in the planning stages of each recruitment campaign, to ensure they are going to reach and attract a strong and diverse field of candidates for each role.” 

Download the Commission’s annual report

Watch our short videos 

Notes to Editors 

1. Media enquiries about the work of the Commission should go to 

Maggie O’Boyle on 07880 740 627. 

2. More information about the work of the Commission is available on its website 

3. You can also follow the Commission on twitter @CivServComm 

4. The Civil Service Commission was established as a statutory body in November 2010 under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The Commission is independent of Ministers and the Civil Service. It is responsible for upholding the requirement that recruitment to the Civil Service is on merit on the basis of fair and open competition. 

5. The Commission comprises senior figures from the private, public and third sectors. Civil Service Commissioners are appointed by the Crown for five-year non-renewable terms of office. The Commission and the Cabinet Office are currently recruiting five new Commissioners. 

Please find the Commission's response to general enquiries to dealing with recruitment during the current time. This is based on the questions we have been receiving. We ask that you check this in the first instance, before contacting the Commission directly. If the answer to the question is not there, please call 0207 271 0831 or email

This guidance has been agreed with Civil Service Employee Policy (CSEP). The Commission will be working with CSEP to develop further guidance and we will keep our own website reviewed and refreshed. 

Departments are able to offer interviews in alternative format, such as Skype, Google hang outs, video calls etc. The option of last resort would be the “traditional” phone call.  This will be dependent on the IT capability of departments, and of the candidates themselves. The Recruitment Principles are not overly prescriptive and provide departments with the ability to design an assessment process which suits business needs. Success Profiles also provides departments with the option to provide for a range of assessments.

For example, if you have stated in the candidate pack that a presentation will be required, consider whether it is possible to ask the candidate to submit something in writing, to be discussed with the panel by phone or video conferencing.

If you need to reconsider whether you can offer all the stages of the process in a campaign, whether at assessment centre or otherwise, you can remove an advertised stage, for example an exercise/role play.  You should disregard any scores you may already have given to candidates who have already gone through this part of the process so that all candidates are assessed on the same criteria.  The Commission will not consider this to be a breach as long as what you have done, and the reason, is clearly documented.

Where possible, try to offer a consistent format for interviews  to all candidates (i.e. all by video preferably or all by phone). If that is not possible for some candidates, due to the access of IT, take a reasoned approach, and ensure that approach is documented. The Commission cannot provide you with technological advice.

  • Interviews should be consistent, as usual, and ask the same questions on the same behaviours or strengths. You should follow the information published in your candidate packs.

Please remember where a Commissioner is chairing a competition they should be consulted on all aspects and decisions should not be taken without their knowledge or prior agreement. You must make arrangements and agree with them on any IT based approach to ensure their IT has appropriate capability. Planning and shortlist meetings can take place via phone or skype, you must discuss interview arrangements with the Commissioner in advance of the campaign launching.

There are some campaigns which could assess candidates using solely written evidence, and/or the results of online assessments. This is a decision for the department, you must be assured that you are able to make a sound judgement using the information available. Departments must have the same amount of evidence for each candidate and not consider anything else they may be aware of eg for internal candidates known to them.

In instances where candidates refuse alternative formats for interview, the offer can be withdrawn, unless the request is in relation to a reasonable adjustment, and in relation to a disability. We would expect you to offer candidates a reasonable amount of time  in which to allow a candidate to respond to communications, particularly where you are introducing changes.

There may be some instances where campaigns will need to be paused, or cancelled. This decision is the department’s to make, the Commission would not advise on how best to manage staff resources.

In relation to submitting ID, the Commission has advised that no candidate should be unduly disadvantaged if they are unable to provide evidence of their ID at interview. The arrangements for submitting ID are being discussed and CSEP/ GRS  will provide more information in due course. The Commission will publish this guidance.

Best practice usually leads to a three person panel. The Commission is hoping that this best practice  can continue, however, the Recruitment Principles require  there to be a minimum of two people on a panel. Please note that the panel and process must be chaired by a civil servant for all recruitment at PB1 and below, and the Commission will expect to see evidence that this has been observed at all times.

You should also, where possible, give due regard to the diversity of panels.

If the answer to the question is not there, please call 0207 271 0831 or email

As well as its Commissioners personally chairing panels for recruitment processes at the senior levels, the Commission must check that external recruitment carried out within departments and agencies is compliant with our Recruitment Principles.

We do this through an in-house audit of the recruitment practices of over 70 departments and agencies, which identifies any breaches or poor practice, as well as good practice. We look at recruitment documentation to ensure that the organisation is recruiting in a compliant manner.

At the end of the compliance period, we consider all organisations and give them a rating. As part of that process, the Commission looks at any breaches or poor practice identified over the year, whether at audit, as result of complaints received by the Commission or in the course of our day to day contact with organisations. We also look at any challenges faced by the organisation as well as any positive actions being taken, and their Civil Service Code and diversity figures. Our final step is to moderate all of the ratings for consistency.

The ratings for the period 2018/19, which can be found in our annual report and on our website, are decided not with a formulaic approach but based on an informed judgement. While some poor practice and specific breaches were identified, the Commission retains confidence in the ability of all organisations we regulate to carry out external recruitment and does not believe that any require significant regulatory intervention at present.

Jan Cameron, Chair of the Commission’s Compliance Group, said:

By taking our auditing in-house and our team visiting each organisation in person, it is much easier for us to identify organisations who need additional help or advice or would benefit from further training.

There are some key lessons for all departments and agencies to continue to focus on – for example, the importance of keeping good records, following the advertised process and ensuring that appointments made by Exception comply with the Recruitment Principles.

As well as highlighting avoidable breaches and common mistakes, we saw some examples of excellent recruitment practices and we are considering how we can share this good practice more widely.

If you are working in a department or agency and would like to know more about what to expect from an audit by the Commission, please see our FAQs document or get in touch with our team.

Update: The FAQs document was updated in January 2020 to reflect new guidance, and has been re-uploaded to this blog post.

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