Working to make government more effective

Analysis paper

Opening up: how to strengthen the civil service through external recruitment

The civil service’s ability to deliver ministers’ priorities is being hurt by its failure to attract and properly use the skills of external recruits.

Aerial view of Whitehall
Aerial view of Whitehall

The civil service’s ability to deliver ministers’ priorities is being hurt by its failure to attract, retain and properly use the skills of external recruits.  

This report calls on ministers and civil servants to act decisively to open up the civil service and overhaul its approach to bringing in outside expertise and talent.  

Drawing on extensive interviews with current and former officials, it finds that the civil service is good at developing high-quality generalists but is lacking in specialists, particularly in senior roles. Specialist technical skills, such as a deep knowledge of the financial markets or the use of artificial intelligence, are sometimes best developed outside government but are too rarely recruited into government.  

The report identifies problems in the civil service’s approach to external recruitment, with the civil service’s ‘employer brand’ damaged by high-profile ministerial attacks and the civil service’s own reluctance to present a positive vision of itself.  

Warning that the civil service will suffer “potentially profound consequences”, including a loss of confidence in its effectiveness, if it is not able to get the right people in the right roles to enact ministerial priorities and deliver good government, the report sets out a blueprint to increase the technical expertise available to the civil service. 

Its recommendations include: 

  • Reforming civil service contracts to better reward individuals for success and better incentivise high performance and the right behaviours. 
  • Overhauling the recruitment process to level the playing field between internal and external candidates  
  • Overhauling the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) to ensure ministers and officials have more confidence in the management of conflicts of interest
  • Establishing new senior specialist roles to allow experts to contribute their technical expertise to government. 
  • Publishing detailed data on its recruitment, onboarding and induction processes to ensure senior leaders are held to account over recruitment.  
Institute for Government

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