Civil Service Commission seeks more independence from Cabinet Office

Gisela Stuart says the regulator has at times been "treated like a business unit of the Cabinet Office"
Gisela Stuart at PACAC. Photo:

By Tevye Markson

18 Apr 2023

Civil service recruitment watchdog Gisela Stuart is negotiating with the Cabinet Office to gain more independence, Gisela Stuart has told MPs.

The first civil service commissioner told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee this morning that she is determined to update the framework for the relationship between government and the Civil Service Commission to strengthen the regulator's operational independence.

She also queried the sharing of administrative staff with the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments and the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments. She noted that the commission is entitled to be "completely independent and employ its own staff" under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, through which it was established.

It is therefore “a rather curious position that a statutory regulator... has chosen to use the facilities of the Cabinet Office, shares its secretariat with two other organisations – Acoba and OCPA – and at times has been treated as if it was a business unit of the Cabinet Office,” Stuart said.

“And that is where negotiations have happened over the last nine months and I very much hope that we can actually bring about some changes on that.”

The memorandum of understanding between the Cabinet Office and Civil Service Commision, which dates back to 2010, sets out the commission’s independence in discharging its functions. It also states that the Cabinet Office “will actively support the commission in the exercise of its functions across the civil service”. 

Asked if she was satisfied with how the Cabinet Office is meeting the framework's criteria of “actively supporting” the commission, Stuart argued this support is needed in some areas more than others.

This is a bit of two-edged sword because active support would be that you ensure that the payroll is done, that the pensions schemes are done, that the whole HR function is fulfilled – but you still have to respect the independence of the commission,” she said.

“And where I think we require less active support and more independence is by making our own staffing decisions, by deciding on the grades ourselves."

Stuart said she hopes a new framework for the relationship will combine the operational independence of the Civil Service Commission with the Cabinet Office's efforts to improve efficiency. Reforms are currently under way to “make the Cabinet Office better, smaller and fairer".

Stuart told the committee she has set a target to update the memorandum of understanding between the commission and the Cabinet Office by her two-yearly review next year.  

The framework was supposed to be updated every years but its renewal was delayed by the Cabinet Office in 2013 and it has remained unchanged ever since.

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