Maude calls ceasefire in battle over perm sec appointments

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has paused his plans to allow ministers to choose their permanent secretary from an approved shortlist, after the Civil Service Commission intervened to propose a compromise arrangement.

By Joshua.Chambers

19 Dec 2012

Maude said he was “sorry” that the commission had decided not to support his proposals, but added that “these new changes that the commission have agreed are capable of significantly increasing ministerial involvement. We will wait to see how they are applied in practice before concluding that revisions to the legislation are not required.”

The Cabinet Office minister has decided to examine how the revised system proposed by the commission operates in the appointment of the next permanent secretaries of the Home Office and the Department for Energy and Climate Change. However, Maude may still seek to legislate for greater ministerial involvement in the appointment of permanent secretaries if ministers are dissatisfied with the compromise arrangements.

Maude had called for a system under which the commission would produce a shortlist of suitable candidates, with the secretary of state choosing which to appoint.

However, the commission – which runs the appointments process – has blocked Maude’s plans. First civil service commissioner Sir David Normington writes in this CSW that “the commission actively supports the involvement of ministers in permanent secretary competitions and has agreed some further changes to strengthen that involvement. But we stop short of giving ministers a choice. That would, we believe, be a step too far.”

The commission has clarified the existing arrangements and proposed that ministers can play a greater role in the selection process, but maintains that selection panels must make the ultimate appointment rather than the secretary of state. Instead, the commission says that ministers should agree the final job description, person specification, and job advert; approve with the first commissioner the composition of the recruitment panel, to ensure “there is sufficient external challenge”; and meet with each of the shortlisted candidates, feeding back their opinions before the final interview stage. The secretary of state also has the power to veto any appointment, or ask the commission to reconsider.

Now that the commission has blocked Maude’s plan, Whitehall insiders tell CSW that he will be unable to make further changes to the system unless he amends the 2010 Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, which enshrined in statute the power of the Civil Service Commission to oversee appointments to the civil service based on open competition and merit. However, CSW understands that Maude has had legal advice suggesting that he can make his proposed change within the current legislative framework.

Former cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell told CSW that pushing for further changes would be “a great mistake”, adding: “A large number of ministers across all parties realise that an apolitical civil service is a huge advantage to this country. The commissioners are there to uphold the system; if the government wishes to change that system, I think they should consult Parliament about it.”

“The proposed change risks politicising the civil service, and an impartial civil service is the bedrock of our system”, he added.

See David Normington's Opinion.


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