What is it like to work for a regulator? - Kate Owen, Interim Chief Executive

There’s been a lot of interest recently in the small independent offices that regulate parts of public life as indicated by reports and papers from a range of academics, think tanks and integrity experts. But what is it like to work at an independent regulatory body? And what sorts of skills are required? 

The Civil Service Commission Secretariat supports the work of three organisations – the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which provides advice to those leaving senior government roles, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, who regulates appointments made by Ministers to the boards of public bodies, and the Civil Service Commission, which oversees appointments into the Civil Service to provide assurance they are on merit, after a fair and open competition and acts as the appellate body for appeals under the Civil Service Code.

Although each body has separate and distinct regulatory roles and powers, there are some common skills and qualities required by the staff who support them. I wrote more about this here in March. When we recruit to our team, we advertise externally as we know these qualities are available both inside and outside the Civil Service. For example, we have staff who have handled casework in previous roles across the public sector. We also have a number of former teachers who bring with them strong communication skills and the ability to engage with a wide range of people. We are interested in an applicant’s transferrable skills and abilities, not where they acquired them. 

What type of work do we do?  

A common theme across each team is casework. Team members look carefully at the evidence provided to establish whether they have all the information they need to consider the case. They also need analytical skills to be able to unpick the key issues which sit behind the case and consider a decision from all angles. The team will consider whether there are precedents and whether the case concerned would establish a new precedent or diverge from an existing one. 

People who lodge a case with our teams do so because they feel something has happened that should not have and would like it investigated or, in the case of ACOBA, that they have an application upon which they require advice. Sometimes working in regulation means we have to speak to people who feel strongly about a decision or may not like the decision made. We look for staff who can demonstrate the ability to have these conversations in a clear, professional and emotionally intelligent way.   

We also look for strong written communication skills which enable our staff to explain the often complex factors taken into account in regulatory decisions. Our work is rightly highly scrutinised by the public, media, academics and parliamentarians so it is critical that our cases are resolved in a way that is clear and transparent to all concerned.

What support will I receive? 

We work hard to maintain ethical practices in our own team, drawing on thinking in the Committee for Standards in Public Life’s 2023 report on Leading in Practice. We have spent time reflecting on our values (Independent, Respectful and Expert), how we embody these in our work and how we work as a team. 

We focus on the ‘how’ of decision making so that staff can be confident in the judgements they are making. We pride ourselves on our supportive culture and flat hierarchy in which everyone can take the opportunity to test their thinking both within and across the wider team. Our People Survey results are very strong and reflect the culture we strive to achieve. We work hard to ensure staff feel supported in their work and draw on the expertise of our trained Mental Health First Aiders and Fair Treatment Confidant to ensure that there is a healthy culture in which everyone can thrive. 

We also invest considerable time in training and developing staff. We are proud of the roles people secure when they take their next steps and try to ensure that people are well equipped to make competitive applications for wherever they would like to go. Many people have found time in the Secretariat to be a good stepping stone for a wide range of careers.

We endeavour to provide an expert service to those we regulate and are constantly looking at how we might do things better. Our recent People Survey results tell us that our team is highly engaged with their work – and they tell me regularly how fascinating our work can be. But don’t just take my word for it, here’s what some of our team have to say about working here: 

Neema Begum: Compliance Lead, Civil Service Commission

“Since joining the Compliance Team, I've led on rolling out a new audit methodology covering over 70 Civil Service departments; gained experience in stakeholder management from presenting at my first ever Board meeting and collaborated with others to define policy positions under the Recruitment Principles. Looking back from when I joined the team in September 2023, I can see how far I've come in my professional development, with the added privilege of working in an amazing team full of inspirational individuals.”

Jessica Barrow: Policy and Casework Officer, Advisory Committee on Business Appointments

“Working for the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) is dynamic and interesting- no two days are the same. Since joining the team, I have been able to develop skills in drafting, casework and analysis. At the heart of my job is the ability to weigh up evidence from a number of different sources to provide advice to stakeholders including: government departments, ministers and Crown servants. ACOBA works with a collaborative approach, and so I always feel supported within the team.”

Benjamin Lomas: Policy Lead, Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments

“I started working for the Commissioner for Public Appointments in October 2023 and the subsequent months have been busy, understanding how a new policy area operates across government. It is a pleasure to learn every day and to confront complex and technical challenges. While the profile of the work and the people it concerns are their own motivations, both are enormously enhanced by the team environment. Colleagues are inquisitive and helpful, frequently sharing advice and guidance from different perspectives across the Independent Offices.”

If you are interested in working for us, please search Civil Service Jobs. We are currently advertising for EO roles across the Secretariat and SEO roles in ACOBA.

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