Normington: How to complain about the code

The Civil Service Commission can help civil servants flag complaints about breaches of the Civil Service Code. First civil service commissioner, Sir David Normington, explains how his organisation has just launched an 'Open Week' to encourage civil servants to ask questions and engage with them:

By Civil Service World

18 Mar 2013

Despite some pretty negative recent comment about the civil service, it was encouraging to see in a recent IPSOS MORI poll that trust in civil servants has continued to rise – from 25 per cent in 1983, to 37 per cent in 1993, to 53 per cent now.


Those taking part in the research may not have specifically heard of the Civil Service Code, but the increased levels of trust in civil servants is I believe in part because the public recognises that civil servants aspire to the high ethical standards of honesty, impartiality, objectivity and integrity that are set out in the Code. There are many private companies that would pay dearly to have this level of trust from their customers. Barclays, for example, recently published its own new ethical code and used many of the same words; and other parts of the banking industry are doing the same.

The recent civil service staff survey also showed high levels of awareness of the Code across the civil service. This has risen in every one of the past four years and now stands at 88 per cent. This level of awareness of the values of your organisation is I believe another thing that many businesses would envy. Good companies would like their brand to have a set of core ethical values as ingrained as those of the civil service. I sometimes think, however, that civil servants take these values too much for granted. They should be promoted actively and regarded as a major selling point for new recruits, particularly for young people considering a civil service career.

Knowledge of the Code is also not sufficient in itself. Civil servants must also know how they can raise a concern and have confidence that if they do it will be properly investigated. The staff survey shows that across the civil service, 63 per cent of staff know how to raise a concern in their organisation (up from 44 per cent in 2009), and 67 per cent are confident it would be investigated properly (up from 58 per cent in 2009).

The independent Civil Service Commission – which I chair – has a key role here in helping to promote the Code, and also to hear appeals made under it. We work with departments to try to ensure that staff are aware of how they can raise a concern if they feel that the Code is being breached. The concerns that civil servants raise are very varied: some are about political impartiality, but they also raise concerns about proper use of resources and efficiency. The first port of call for complaints under the Code is the civil servant's own department. Departments should ensure that their staff know how they can raise concerns. Ultimately if they are not satisfied with the response from their department, they can bring their concern to the Commission.

The Civil Service Commission is holding a virtual Open Week about its work this week (18-22 March). Commissioners will be available throughout the week to take questions or hear comments on the Commission’s work in upholding the values set out in the Civil Service Code, and on our very important role in providing assurance that recruitment to the Civil Service is made on merit after fair and open competition. We will not be able to answer individual HR questions – we’ll have to leave that to employing departments – but if you have questions about recruitment to the civil service, or to do with the values in the Civil Service Code we would very much like to hear from you. This is the first time we have run an Open Week like this. We hope that many civil servants join in, find out more about what we do, and tell us what they think.

If you would like to contact the Commission as part of Open Week you can e-mail us at or send us a question or comment via the Commission’s dedicated Twitter account @openweek or follow us on Facebook. Questions and answers will be posted on our dedicated Open Week Page throughout the week on our website .


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