Only 7% of people shortlisted for top civil service jobs overseen by civil service commissioners were black or from a minority-ethnic background last year, despite the group making up 19% of applicants, the latest figures have shown.
Nearly one in five applicants who applied for a job via a competition chaired by a civil service commissioner, which include some of the most senior jobs in Whitehall, self-identified as BAME, according to the Civil Service Commission’s annual report. However, only 8% were considered appointable and 7% were shortlisted.
Public appointment rules mean all open competitions for permanent secretary, director general and director jobs are chaired by a representative of the commission, which regulates civil service recruitment. Commissioners also chair all internal competitions at perm sec and DG level, and for some other roles on an ad-hoc basis.
Women had a higher success rate, making up 26% of commissioner-led appointments but 41% of shortlists and 44% of appointable candidates, the figures showed.
But the success rate was even lower among disabled applicants, who made up 6% of applicants, despite making up 19% of working-age adults in the UK. Only 5% of those shortlisted and 4% of those deemed appointable had a declared disability.
The report also recognised a need to increase the number of disabled people applying to senior roles. Having focused primarily on attracting more BAME candidates until now, the commission said that in the next year, “we will work on understanding what needs to be done to ensure processes are not disadvantaging members of the disabled community.”
Increasing diversity at the upper echelons of the civil service has been the commission’s main priority in the last year. It has convened a diversity working group and improved its use of diversity statistics and data capture to “better inform departmental outreach”, the report said.
The statistics in the report reflected the recent increase in Senior Civil Service recruitment. Commissioners chaired 197 appointments last year, up from 164 the previous year.
Conversely, the number of appointments being made using an exception – which allow departments to waive some recruitment rules when they 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” – has “reassuringly” fallen, the commission’s chief executive, Peter Lawrence said.
However, Lawrence noted that there had also been an increase in the number of recruitment complaints, from 172 in 2017-18 to 211 in 2018-19.
The commission considered 32 of the 211 cases, with the rest either out of scope, requiring a departmental investigation before the commission could consider the case, or withdrawn. The commission identified breaches of the recruitment principles governing appointments in 11 of those cases, including what Lawrence called “the most serious case [it had seen] for some time”.
The Health and Safety Executive was found to have committed several breaches of the principles when it appointed a candidate to a Grade 6 post without declaring that the candidate was the relative of a senior manager who was involved in the recruitment process.
“More seriously, the successful candidate [had been] treated more favourably at sift than their actual marks merited. As a result, the appointment was found to be unlawful,” the report said.
Other breaches included conflict of interests that were not declared, a failure to extend an online test deadline when required, and an incident where candidates were assessed according to a criterion that had not been advertised.
Civil Service Code appeals – where adherence to the civil service values of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality is called into question – also increased from 78 to 85. Around a third – 28 – were referred back to departments for investigation.
Despite these breaches, Lawrence said: “While we have identified some poor practice and breaches during the year overall, the commission retains confidence in the ability of all organisations we regulate to carry out external recruitment, and we do not believe that any require significant regulatory intervention.”
Commenting on the report, first civil service commissioner Ian Watmore said: "We will continue to be innovative across a range of challenges in 2019, whether in educating departments and improving their regulatory compliance; helping departments to improve diversity in areas such as ethnicity, disability and social mobility; promoting civil servants' understanding of the Civil Service Code and values; and continuing to take their complaints seriously when they see breaches."