Gove calls for 'better planning' to tackle recruitment delays

Decisions to turn down appointable candidates not 'taken lightly', Cabinet Office minister insists
"I share your disappointment when, on occasion, campaigns are unsuccessful," Gove tells Riddell. Photo: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has told ministers to improve their planning for recruitment campaigns for top public appointments, after being urged to address “unacceptable and unavoidable” delays filling some jobs.

In a letter to public appointments commissioner Peter Riddell, Gove said that in the last few months, he had “asked my officials to insist on better succession and campaign planning by all departments”.

The letter, sent last month, was in response to a July missive from Riddell raising concerns about “often lengthy” delays to filling public appointments. Riddell said a “lack of progress in a number of high profile competitions” had forced him to sanction extensions of appointments – sometimes without being told why recruitment is taking so long.

Gove said: “These competitions are, of course, the responsibility of the relevant secretary of state. I strongly agree however that across government, we must do all we can to ensure that appointment processes are run efficiently and good candidates are not deterred from applying for appointments, or remaining engaged in processes, by avoidable delays.”

“I share your disappointment when, on occasion, campaigns are unsuccessful and need to be re-run,” he said, noting – as Riddell did – that ministers have the authority to decide not to appoint any of the candidates found appointable for a role and re-run a competition.

“No such decision is taken lightly, but as ministers are accountable for appointments this is a necessary and legitimate course to take in some circumstances,” he said.

“Naturally in these cases there should be a period of review in order to understand why an appointment was not made and what changes may need to be made, for example to the criteria, assessment panel and/or advertising and outreach before relaunching.”

To prevent delays, Gove said Cabinet Office officials have been “working closely with departmental appointment teams to ensure proper management information is in place, including a forward look of planned campaigns”.

“This enables secretaries of state and the centre to be sure that proper preparation is being done in advance of competitions being launched, thereby increasing the chances of a smooth and successful competition,” he said.

And he said these efforts will be “bolstered further” by a new public appointments digital service that the Cabinet Office is developing, which will provide “more accurate and accessible real time information on how campaigns are progressing”.

One of the gripes Riddell raised was that when recruitment delays happen, they are often “unexplained”.

In his response, Gove set out the reasoning behind delays to two of the campaigns Riddell mentioned, for the roles of the Ofcom and Competition and Markets Authority chairs.

He said the relevant secretaries of state had decided not to appoint any of the candidates that the interview panel had deemed to be appointable.

“In each case, the decision by the respective secretaries of state not to appoint any of the candidates found appointable was taken within, or close to, the three month period following the closure of the campaign, thereby bringing the campaigns to a close,” the Cabinet Office minister said.

“I know that in both cases, following review, secretaries of state are close to launching fresh campaigns and of course will be consulting you where required in advance.”

He did not explain why recruitment for an information commissioner – another role mentioned in Riddell’s letter – had taken so long. Instead, he said an announcement was imminent and would take place in “good time to ensure a proper handover with the incumbent”. 

John Edwards, the privacy commissioner for New Zealand, was named as the government’s preferred candidate for the role at the end of August, shortly after Gove sent his response. If his appointment is approved by MPs, he will take up the role in October.

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