Civil Service Commission flags concerns over HR capability

Cabinet Office and Scottish Government among eight organisations given red rating for recruitment capability, while Treasury identified as paying 20% over an advertised salary range without seeking authorisation


By Suzannah.Brecknell

21 Jul 2017

Independent regulator the Civil Service Commission has given eight organisations a red rating for recruitment capability in its annual report.

Ratings are based on quarterly recruitment data gathered by the commission – which is tasked with ensuring that appointments to the civil service are made on merit through fair and open competition – and on data collected during monitoring visits. A red rating indicates “significant risk to the organisation or actual breach of the [civil service recruitment] principles and/or major concerns with capability”.

While most civil service organisations were assessed as either green or amber-green, the remaining organisations include large employers such as the Ministry of Justice and Home Office. The report notes that 58% of civil service recruitment is happening through red or amber-red rated departments.

This is an increase on the previous year, but can partly be explained by the fact that the commission carried out more compliance visits in 2016-17 than in 2015-16.


Eight departments were given a red rating, and “assessed as requiring major improvement”, the report said. These departments were the Cabinet Office, the Competitions and Markets Authority, the Department for Education, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the National Crime Agency, Public Health England and the Scottish Government.

First commissioner Ian Watmore told CSW that breaches of the principles were “nearly always misunderstandings about why and how to do things,” and that as well as offering more education on recruitment principles, the commission is considering changing the way it decides on ratings so that it can take account of the size of a department and the seriousness of a breach.

Breaches identified in these departments included failure to interview candidates who were part of the Guaranteed Interview Scheme, failure to keep proper records, inaccurate information provided in job adverts, and improper use of exceptions that allow organisations to appoint people outside of the normal principles in certain circumstances.

The Cabinet Office committed four breaches of the recruitment principles in 2016-17, including setting up a meeting between former prime minister David Cameron and “an appointable candidate for a permanent secretary competition” without a commissioner present.

The department also made a Pay Band 2 appointment without the commission’s approval, and employed a former member of an Extended Ministerial Office under a temporary exception without commission approval. 

The report said: “Although many breaches have been identified at these eight organisations, the commission is encouraged by those organisations who have recognised that they have breached the recruitment principles and have self-reported these breaches to the commission.”

The commission will write to the heads of these organisations asking for plans to correct the problems, and offer training as well as carrying out follow up visits to monitor progress.

The report notes that Civil Service Resourcing is helping departments to improve their recruitment both through it’s recruitment tool, by reinforcing the need for good records, and improving the way it handles complaints about the system.

However, it says that “the commission continues to be concerned about the fast turnover of human resources staff which means that many organisations lose knowledgeable members of staff who are replaced with staff inexperienced in civil service recruitment.”

Across all of the organisations it regulates – which made around 40,000 appointments in 2016-17, the Commission found 230 cases where recruitment principles were not properly applied. These include six organisations who extended appointments made by exception without approval from the commission, and eight departments who appointed individuals at a salary above the Pay Band 2 minimum without approval from the commission.

At the Treasury, an appointment was made at a salary 20% over the advertised salary without required approval from the commission.

The commission’s annual report said that around 10% of  all breaches related to appointments to the senior civil service – describing this as a “matter for concern”.

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