Prime minister should not be able to select permanent secretaries, say MPs

The prime minister should not be given the power to select permanent secretaries, the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) says in a report published today.

John Levers

By Joshua.Chambers

28 Feb 2014

The committee’s intervention is its response to a consultation being held by the Civil Service Commission on the appointment of Whitehall’s top officials. This put forward two options for consideration: the current model, whereby the commission makes a decision and puts it to the prime minister to approve; or a new model under which, if both candidates are of equal merit, the prime minister makes the final choice.

PASC has spoken out against the second option because it “risks the appearance that the choice will be made on grounds other than merit alone”.

Committee chair Bernard Jenkin said of the second option that “the danger is that this proposal would encourage an expectation that the government of the day is entitled to choose its permanent secretaries.”

“We know that there are voices now arguing for much more political control over civil servants. There needs to be a proper debate about this,” he said.

The permanent secretary appointment process was reformed by the commission last year to allow for greater ministerial involvement. The appointment panel formally consults the secretary of state during the appointment process at various stages. PASC thinks this option is sufficient.

See also: Civil Service Commission offers compromise on perm sec appointments

Opinion: IPPR's Guy Lodge on permanent secretary appointments

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