Civil service recruiters get new freedoms on ‘highly specialist’ roles

Written by Jim Dunton on 3 April 2018 in News

Competition rules also relaxed for appointments aimed at boosting life chances of disadvantaged applicants

First Civil Service Commissioner Ian Watmore. Credit: Photoshot/CSW

Government departments and agencies have gained new freedoms to hire staff without putting roles out to open competition in cases where there is an urgent need for “highly specialist” talent, or a job offer is part of a programme to help targeted individuals into work.

Key changes to the Civil Service Commission’s revised Recruitment Principles, which came into effect at the beginning of this month, also put new diversity-boosting obligations on recruitment panels and suggest the track record of departments on diversity is likely to become a consideration in recruitment for senior roles.

Under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, appointments to the civil service must be made on “on merit on the basis of fair and open competition” unless a situation in which an acceptable exemption applies.


The latest tweaks to the recruitment principles include a waiver on the requirement for a “fair and open competition” when departments are looking for staff with “highly specialist skills” and a full open competition is “judged to be unlikely to secure suitable appointees within the required timescale”.

The waiver applies to posts expected to last for less than two years, and where the civil service does not already have “readily available” in-house skills.

In a consultation on the proposals earlier this year the commission acknowledged that departments had already been given leeway to make Brexit-related appointments on a similar basis when hirings were supported by an appropriate business case, and when the roles were not expected to last for more than three years.

Another new exception allows departments to relax the fair competition rules for candidates taking part in government employment programmes designed to support people whose personal backgrounds and “previous life chances” would make them unlikely to gain employment in an open competition.

Such candidates may include ex-offenders taking part in approved schemes or applicants from other disadvantaged groups. Appointments made under the exception are supposed to be made on a fixed-term basis of up to two years.

First Civil Service Commissioner Ian Watmore said the updated principles reflected a desire to help meet the huge challenges Whitehall is currently facing, at the same time as making the civil service more representative of the country as a whole.

“These revisions reflect and support the commission’s four strategic priorities of increasing diversity, recruiting 21st century skills, delivering Brexit and improving life chances,” he said. 

“In particular, they will help ensure departments focus, right from the outset, on how they intend to attract strong and diverse fields of candidates for jobs at all levels of the civil service. 

“It is for departments and agencies to develop and apply recruitment processes that best meet their business needs, but they must operate in accordance with the Recruitment Principles and test their own practices against them.”

The new measures include a requirement for chairs of recruitment panels to approve plans to attract a strong and diverse field of applicants before a competition gets under way. They also invite chairs to comment on the strength and diversity of the field of candidates in their formal record of the recruitment exercise.

Other key changes are a requirement for private consultants working with departments to be made fully aware of the updated principles and new diversity requirements, and a “signal” that commissioners who oversee top-level recruitment processes are “likely to report on departments’ efforts to secure applications for currently under-represented groups – and any possible lessons ​learned  – when chairing senior competitions”.

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Jim Dunton
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