Civil Service Commission takes action over Cabinet Office recruitment failures

Poor compliance with recruitment rules leads to creation of new CSC rating "requiring regulatory intervention"
Cabinet Office recruitment practices under scrutiny. Photo: Adobe Stock

By Tevye Markson

25 Oct 2022

The Civil Service Commission has decided to intervene in the Cabinet Office’s recruitment processes after three years of consistently poor and worsening performance.

The commission’s concern about the Cabinet Office’s compliance with recruitment rules that it has created a new category – “requiring regulatory intervention” – in its latest annual report.

“The Cabinet Office, having been consistently rated ‘poor’ since 2019/20 and with a declining trajectory, has led to the addition of a new trajectory of ‘requiring regulatory intervention’,” the report said.

Meanwhile, another department is at risk of moving into the same category after rescoring a candidate to fit the requirements of a role.

The Civil Service Commission regulates recruitment into the civil service, ensuring that appointments are made on merit after fair and open competition.

Being part of this category could mean the commission conducts more frequent audits and more targeted audits to look specifically at the areas where weaknesses have been found.

Departments may also, in some cases, need to get the commission’s permission before putting out job adverts, inviting candidates to be interviewed and making appointments, to allow the regulator to ensure the processes meet its standards.

A CSC spokesperson said: “'This is a new rating which we have brought in as part of our new, risk-based approach, which will allow us to focus much more on poor performance in the civil service and raise overall recruitment standards across government.”

Asked what specific interventions the CSC plans to make in the Cabinet Office’s case, the spokesperson said: “The commission is working closely with the Cabinet Office to improve their processes and embed good practice.”

The commission now has nine ratings, which show departments’ performance level in meeting recruitment principles and their expected trajectory. These are:

  • Good: static; or at risk
  • Fair: likely to improve; static; or at risk or static,
  • Poor: likely to improve; static; at risk; or requiring regulatory intervention

The ratings are not based solely on the number of times departments breach the recruitment rules, but also reflect how departments are responding to issues as they arise. Larger departments, such as the Department for Health and Social Care, recruit more and so are likely to have more breaches.

The Cabinet Office had 10 breaches in 2019-20, 14 in 2020-21 and 11 in 2021-22; while DHSC’s breaches climbed from four to 24 to 37 in those three years.

In this time, the Cabinet Office went from “poor – static” to “poor – at risk” to “poor – requires regulatory improvement”, while DHSC went from “fair – static” to “poor – at risk” to “poor – likely to improve”.

Nine departments or public bodies were rated “poor” this year, with one – the Ministry of Defence – at risk of moving into “requires regulatory intervention”. Another, Ofwat, was rated “static”, while the other seven were all “likely to improve”.

The MoD was responsible for one of the most serious breaches described in the report: an unlawful appointment where a candidate’s application was rescored and the commentary around their performance was rewritten to suit the requirements of the role.

Other serious contraventions included a candidate for a National Crime Agency role receiving someone else’s feedback and The Department for Transport using a written exercise that was biased towards internal candidates.

Most of the Cabinet Office breaches were of exception conditions – which allow departments to recruit outside the normal principles for specific roles. An example of a break of exception conditions would be using the exception use outside the period it was allowed for.

Other Cabinet Office breaches included: record-keeping; adding an unadvertised recruitment process stage; and not getting approval for a salary above the SCS2 pay band.

A government spokesperson said: "We are committed to improving our recruitment processes to ensure they meet the standard as set out by the Civil Service Commission and are taking the necessary steps to address the issues raised in the report.” 

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