First civil service commissioner, Sir David Normington, said the commission is seeking views on the revised 2012 guidance, and also on a proposal to give "the prime minister a greater say in the appointment of head of government departments without putting at risk a non-politicised civil service.”
“This does not go as far as the government has proposed. It could, however, offer the prime minister a degree of choice in cases where an independent panel decided, on the evidence, that candidates were of broadly similar merit for the job.”
Normington said the commission has decided to do this because its recruitment principles have not been reviewed since they were introduced in 2009. “They now need some updating in the light of experience and to take account of recent developments like the government’s Civil Service Reform Programme.”
He added that while they want to make sure that civil servants are “recruited on merit on the basis of fair and open competition,” within that framework “we also want to give government departments the flexibility to tailor their recruitment processes to attract the best available talent.”
Normington also told the Financial Times that government should introduce more “flexibility” in pay structures in in order "to be able to attract a stronger field" in senior civil service candidates.
His comments echo the views of many other senior officials. In an interview with CSW last July, the Ministry of Defence’s chief of defence materiel Bernard Gray warned of a brain drain into the private sector due to uncompetitive civil service pay, whilst Mark Russell, chief executive of the Shareholder Executive, has told CSW that the current restrictions on civil service pay are "definitely a constraint". Former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell and the government’s lead non-executive director, Lord Browne, have both complained that uncompetitive pay is limiting the civil service's ability to recruit and retain specialised professionals.
The Civil Service Commission's consultation comes one year after reforms were announced to the recruitment of permanent secretaries. The government said it would review those procedures after twelve months, and this consultation sees the commission publish its own revised suggestions - which do not go as far as the government would like.
Akash Paun, fellow at the Institute for Government, described the commission's proposals as "an improvement", but added: “We believe ultimate responsibility should lie with the secretary of state, who will have a closer working relationship with their permanent secretary than the prime minister. Combined with other steps to clarify accountability, such a move would enable better relationships between those at the top of government.”
Click here to take part in the consultation, which is open until 24 February.