IfG statement on Civil Service Commission response to government’s reform plan

In response to the publication today of the Civil Service Commission’s explanatory note on the involvement of ministers in the appointments of permanent secretaries, we have issued the following statement.

Peter Riddell, Director of the Institute for Government said:

“We welcome that the Civil Service Commission has today published the explanatory note that clarifies current practice around ministerial involvement in senior appointment processes in Whitehall and that the Commission takes seriously the need to involve ministers at all stages of the process.

“In our judgement, it is not apparent that offering ministers a choice, where possible, from a list of ‘above-the-line’ candidates would threaten a “politicisation” of the civil service. There are already a significant  number of public appointments where ministers are given a choice of (usually two) candidates put forward by an independent appointment panel. This system operates for posts where the ability to operate impartially is at least as important as it is for civil servants – such as for the Governor of the Bank of England, the Chairman of the BBC Trust, and the Information Commissioner.

“Similarly, the prime minister is already known to interview personally candidates for the position of cabinet secretary and to make the final decision himself. This approach has not led to concerns about the post of cabinet secretary becoming politicised in the sense of losing the ability to work with administrations of different persuasions.

“Furthermore all candidates on a short-list would have passed through a merit-based selection process overseen, as it is now, by the Civil Service Commission, and all would remain bound by the civil service code and its commitment to political impartiality.”