‘She has the experience and independence of judgement needed’: Gisela Stuart confirmed as first civil service commissioner

Vote Leave chair’s controversial appointment goes ahead
Gisela Stuart after as a Labour MP following the 2015 General Election. Photo: David Warren/Alamy Stock Photo

By Tevye Markson

04 Mar 2022

Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay has confirmed Gisela Stuart’s appointment as first civil service commissioner, making her the first politician in more than 100 years to take on the role.

Barclay said yesterday that the former Labour MP and Vote Leave chair, who was named as the government’s preferred candidate for the watchdog role in December, “has all the attributes, experience and independence of judgement needed to lead the Civil Service Commission highly effectively”.

The announcement comes a month after MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee approved the choice, despite raising concerns about the crossbench peer’s “perceived impartiality”.

Stuart said she is “honoured” to be appointed to the role leading the Civil Service Commission, which works to ensure that civil servants are selected on merit and helps to safeguard an impartial civil service.

“I look forward to leading the important work of the Civil Service Commission in upholding the impartiality of the civil service and ensuring that we have a highly skilled and diverse civil service that can deliver effectively for the citizens of the United Kingdom,” she added.

PACAC approved Stuart’s appointment as the new civil service watchdog in February despite raising concerns about her suitability for the role.

The committee said it endorsed Stuart’s appointment “on the basis of her answers to the questions put to her” at PACAC and wished her well in the new role.

The MPs were not unanimous in approving her appointment, however.

“Whilst the majority of the committee members were content to endorse Stuart’s appointment as first civil service commissioner, reservations were expressed about her suitability for the role and, in particular, her perceived impartiality," the committee said.

Concerns have been raised about her impartiality since her status as the preferred candidate was announced in December.

At the time, Institute for Government programme director Alex Thomas argued Stuart’s status as an “ally or ideological fellow-traveller” of prime minister Boris Johnson called her impartiality into question and made her look like “the wrong appointment”.

Along with giving Stuart’s appointment the go-ahead, MPs also criticised the time it took to recruit a successor to Ian Watmore, who held the role until October. An interim first civil service commissioner has been in place since then.

"As we have come to expect of the Cabinet Office, the appointment process was ongoing at the time the incumbent Ian Watmore’s five-year term which was due to end on 1 October,” the committee said.

Stuart told PACAC last month it was “becoming clearer” that while the first civil service commissioner should be someone who understood the civil service, “it’s increasingly felt they probably shouldn’t be someone who comes from the civil service”.

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