First Commissioner, Gisela Stuart, gave a keynote speech at the First Division Association annual conference on 12 May. You can find the full text of her speech below:
Good morning – and thank you for inviting me to speak.
I’m Gisela Stuart and I am here today in my role as the First Civil Service Commissioner.
This is my first public speech since starting in March. Evidence that your General Secretary has his finger on the pulse!
Before joining the House of Lords in 2020, first as a non-affiliated Peer and now as a Crossbencher, I was an MP for 20 years.
In the first Blair term I served as a Health Minister. I was on several select committees including the Intelligence and Security Committee which oversees MI5, GCHQ and MI6.
Unlike most of my predecessors in the role of First Civil Service Commissioner I have not been a civil servant.
But I have worked with civil servants. I have had to rely on them and trust their advice.
I have experienced first-hand the importance of an effective and impartial civil service and the value of the ethical principles which underpin all their work.
There are no universal laws which tell us how to run a society. Democracy is a system of trial and error where we continually try to find partial solutions to recurring problems.
As an example, I have experienced three fuel crises. One in 1973/74 when we run out of electricity because there was no coal being mined, one in 1999 when the supply chain broke down and the last one during the pandemic when arguable there were sufficient supplies but panic broke out. All three had different causes, but some of the solutions remained the same as were some of the knee-jerk reactions which had to be avoided.
Politicians bring with them the impatience of the moment. They want things done today as they look over their shoulders worrying about the next re-shuffle or the next election.
Civil servants tend to be more cautious and provide collective and enduring memory and impartial advice. Both entered their professions because they are committed to public service.
Tensions arise here but they are part of the essential checks and balances of a functioning democracy.
However, politicians can answer back when they feel they have been unfairly attacked and criticised, civil servants can’t. If they do, it is usually a resigning matter.
You have to rely on others to make your case and defend your professional integrity. I know that the FDA has spoken up in the past, as have other trade unions, and I am glad they have done so. And we all should speak up when we see integrity and professionalism undermined.
Can I also say that to my mind briefings and anonymous attacks are not just wrong they are also counter-productive. They don’t make things better but risk putting talented people off working in government
And helping the Civil Service attract and recruit people with the skills and abilities it needs – on merit - is at the core of my role.
Asking “what is the Civil Service Commission and what do they do” is a legitimate question and some of you may not have come across us before.
The Commission, as well as the Civil Service, have as their foundation document a report published in 1854. The Northcote-Trevelyan Report talked about a British Civil Service with the “core values of integrity, propriety, objectivity and appointment on merit, able to transfer its loyalty and expertise from one elected government to the next”.
It recommended that entry to the Civil Service be solely on merit, to be enforced through the use of examinations.
That is still our core function today, to regulate the entry into the Civil Service, albeit since the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act of 2010 we have been put on a statutory basis.
It is a very thoughtful piece of legislation which defines boundaries and powers but leaves room for evolutionary development. For example, there is a statutory duty to have a “Civil Service Code”, but does not define what that code should contain.
As the “Frist Civil Service Commissioner” I lead the Board of eleven Commissioners who regulate appointments into the civil service. We are all appointed by Her Majesty the Queen and serve a five-year non-renewable term.
Our titles may have a touch of Gilbert & Sullivan about them, but the concept - eleven (diverse) individuals with senior experience of the private, public and voluntary sectors providing public assurance that appointments are made fairly – is a sound (and entirely modern) one.
Our key interest is that anyone joining the Civil Service is appointed fairly and on merit – not on the basis of patronage or nepotism (which was the driving force behind the establishment of the Commission following the Northcote Trevelyan report.)
The Commission’s logo on an advertisement for a Civil Service job tells you that the competition will be regulated in line with the statutory requirement of “merit after a fair and open competition”.
The Commission’s recruitment principles set out what this means in practice. These are intentionally principles – and not narrow Rules.
The Commission has a second role as the independent appeal body for civil servants making a complaint under the Civil Service Code.
We help departments promote the Civil Service values of impartiality, objectivity, honesty and integrity.
Some of you may have come across the Commission, either through a recruitment exercise or our chairing of senior competitions. Today, I’d like to talk to you about how we – as the regulator – want to support, enable, challenge and celebrate the work of the Civil Service.
To deliver the government’s priorities – and even more so at a time of major national and global challenges - the Civil Service must continually bring in - as well as train and retain - people with the relevant skills and experience. In some departments this requires more emphasis on policy than delivery, but the two should never be seen separately. Deliverability has to be a core element of good policy.
The Civil Service exists for a purpose and the concept of an impartial permanent Civil Service relies on a workforce that is able to face new challenges. It is what Gus O’Donnell once coined as 4Ps ‘passion, pace, professionalism and pride’.
Some of the skills required may never be found within the permanent Civil Service. I am thinking of the role of Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Scientific Officer and a number of the new openings around nuclear energy.
Others may only be needed for a short period and for very specific purposes. Developing vaccines and managing large scale supply chains in response to lock down and the pandemic come to mind.
At the top level we need the ability to use data, not just to justify existing policies but to anticipate where policy intervention may be needed in the future.
The public we serve expects fast and responsive service delivery. Every one of us, when we are not in our professional capacity, takes the last sentence as a given.
No one doubts the need for continued reform – and ability to adapt and respond to changing circumstances, but we tend to have diverging views on the scale and the pace.
The Government’s 2021 Declaration on Government Reform is a shared document between Ministers and the Civil Service leadership. This is important to us at the Commission. Effective government relies on working together in the public interest.
It calls for greater ‘porosity’ and commits to relocating civil service jobs away from Whitehall and London and into all the regions and cities of the United Kingdom to support ‘levelling up’. This brings new challenges as do changes in working arrangements and the use of new technology.
So how can we support you?
First and foremost, by doing our day job well – by providing assurance that recruitment into the Civil Service is done fairly and openly and that appointments are made on merit.
At the lower levels, recruitment is delegated to Departments and my team audit their practice annually. Broadly speaking, compliance with the ‘Recruitment Principles’ is pretty good, but we intend to put greater focus on persistent poor performance.
As a regulator we don’t have the power to sanction but we can make sure that our findings are taken seriously and that action is taken to improve performance.
The annual performance review of Permanent Secretaries is undertaken by the Lead Non Executive of the Departmental Board. In future the Lead NED will include the Commission in their list of stakeholders to be consulted. Each Department’s compliance feedback – which covers both performance under the Recruitment Principles and Code complaints – will become part of their Permanent Secretary’s own performance review.
We are in the process of putting together our Annual Report which will be laid before parliament in the summer. In the last financial year Commissioners personally chaired 242 competitions for the most senior roles - ensuring recruitment panels test candidates’ skills and experience fairly, against the criteria, to identify the best overall candidate for a specific position.
Recruitment panels for senior roles will usually include a key stakeholder or sector representative – or a departmental NED – to ensure external input.
Decisions about salary, terms and conditions and location are for the department – our interest is in making sure that all candidates are treated fairly and compete on a level playing field.
Getting it right – thinking about the job specification and how you describe the skills required, making sure the recruitment process is fair and open and getting a strong and diverse field of people to apply – these are the things that Commissioners will want to see.
The government reform plan indicated that all civil service roles would become ‘external by default’ meaning that vacancies should be opened up to the wider employment market.
I would expect a government announcement on how this might work in practice before too long.
Up to now, the decision whether or not to open up a role to external competition was done on a case by case basis by departments.
In our experience of chairing selection processes, civil servants do well in external competitions and regular testing of skills and capabilities can provide new and sometimes unexpected insights.
As our role relates to recruitment INTO the Civil Service, “External by default” brings the Commission in to oversee substantially more recruitment competitions.
The Commission is clear that this will not mean ‘light touch’ regulation – but the sheer numbers of appointments at this important ‘pipeline’ grade, mean the Commission will need to respond - and evolve its working model.
We will want to see the data and hear from departments and Civil Service HR about how they will achieve this and what they hope to see in terms of outcomes as we develop our regulatory model.
Like many regulators, we will look to deploy most resource on recruitment practice that poses greatest risk.
For example, where a department has high compliance scores, the Commission may be able to move to an ‘earned autonomy’ position for some roles with.
We will be looking to pilot and test potential models as ‘External by Default’ takes shape in departments. But we will never lose sight of our statutory duty to ensure that selection is open, fair and on merit.
So how do we support you?
As a Board we constantly ask ourselves whether we are striking the right balance between our regulatory duties and our desire to be flexible and pragmatic. We want the Civil Service to innovate and experiment.
This challenge comes alive when we are asked to approve ‘exceptions’ to fair and open recruitment for specific reasons and for time limited periods. Departments tend to ask for them because they need to respond to an urgent and often unexpected set of circumstances.
In recent years the Board has encouraged the use of exceptions to help the Civil Service meet its wider ambition to become more representative of the country and to give ‘life chances to individuals from a range of disadvantaged backgrounds such as care leavers, veterans and ex-offenders.
We strongly support the Civil Service’s ambition to be more diverse – including diversity of background, region, thought, ethnicity and gender.
Internal measures such as talent development programmes, temporary promotion, mentoring etc. are not within the Commission’s remit. But with our unique perspective across departments’ recruitment from chairing open competitions at senior levels and auditing processes across government, we are using our experience and influence to help departments deliver on their ambition to be more representative.
Recently I have paused and reflected on the fact that the current cabinet is ethnically more diverse than the senior levels of the civil service. Dame Sharon White was the first black person to become a permanent secretary in 2013. Suma Chakrabarti served as the Perm Sec in the ministry of Justice from 2007 to 2012. I assumed things were beginning to change, but they have not. It is not good enough for us talk about the need to change without being prepared to accept that this includes each and every one of us.
The Commission is beginning a pilot– initially with MOJ – for ‘Pathways to Lead’ to develop potential leaders with backgrounds and skills currently under-represented in the workforce (for a time limited appointment) who may be able to bring in new thinking and innovative answers to intractable policy problems.
We will be reviewing this pilot to see if it has wider application.
The successful “Going forward into employment” exception scheme which began as a pilot under Ian Watmore, my predecessor as First Civil Service Commissioner, is now offering over 1000 roles as life chance opportunities to veterans, care leavers and ex-offenders and others will move into Cabinet Office, with the Commission’s ongoing support.
How do we challenge you?
If you have not yet done so, I really do encourage you to read the Commission’s recruitment principles. Intentionally they are principles – and not narrow Rules.
They explain what we mean by “open, fair and on merit”.
During the pandemic there has been a surge in using exceptions for appointments, and that is not surprising. But we need to get back to normal. Make strategic decisions and operate within the rules.
We audit recruitment and highlight breaches because rules are important, but we also really want to encourage and support new ways of doing things.
Hiring managers must think carefully about the skills and qualities they are looking for and spend time and effort to reach a strong and diverse field of candidates. Successful external candidates will need different kinds of support and induction than internal ones.
Our recruitment processes take too long. We know that we lose talented candidates who either drop out or take on other roles. This is wasteful for those who have applied and dropped out and for vacancy holders if don’t get the best people into post.
Together with departmental HR departments the Commission will want to look at ways of shortening the time taken from “decision to hire to someone being in post”.
The Commission also hears appeals under the Civil Service Code. All civil servants should be familiar with the Code and new joiners need to have an awareness of the ethical expectations and the mechanisms in place to raise concerns.
We hold online events and workshops and support departments’ work but embedding public service values is an ongoing task and is never quite “done”.
The primary responsibility for this is within departments, as is the duty to resolve complaints. We only hear appeals once all internal avenues have been exhausted.
The perfect outcome for the Commission is a system where all departments are responsive to complaints and address concerns appropriately, so that no one has the need to appeal to us. But if they do – we are here to help.
The last six years have been particularly demanding and challenging and it is right for us to celebrate the Civil Service.
We in the Commission try to play our part in this celebration.
We recently launched the first “Commissioners Mark of Excellence” to showcase some of the excellent recruitment practice out there. The award will recognise outstanding innovation and commitment in the recruitment of diverse candidates across all grades into the Civil Service.
It champions diversity in its broadest sense, supports the Government’s priority of ‘levelling up’ as well as the Civil Service reform agenda of an innovative and skilled Civil Service.
Along with the Cabinet Secretary, cross-government networks are endorsing and supporting this award. The winner – and those who are highly commended – will be announced in July and they will be entitled to use the excellence kitemark on their advertising for a year.
One of the great things about being a Commissioner, is that we have a unique perspective right across Whitehall.
We see the range of tough and demanding jobs which have to be filled. We see commitment and determination to do what is right.
There are changes ahead both for those working in Whitehall and for us as a regulator.
As long as we remember that we play a vital part in making democracy work and that we have a shared commitment to public service, I know we can do it!
Thank you – I’m very happy to take any questions.
It is five years since I got the call to tell me my application to become a Civil Service Commissioner was successful - and what a five years it has been.
As I arrived the Commission had just agreed some strategic enablers:
- to support the Civil Service in recruiting the skills needed to enable EU Exit,
- to help strengthen the specialist professional skillbase supporting delivery,
- to provide ‘life chance’ opportunities by allowing exceptions from fair and open competition and
- to get behind the commitment to increase the diversity of the civil service workforce.
With so much there I cared about; I couldn’t have felt more at home.
And I’m proud that we can demonstrate that we have taken the practical action and the collected data to show we have made a difference. Those same data also suggest that structural inequalities persist and that there remains much more to be done before the civil service is the diverse and inclusive workplace we’d all like to see. I’ve been closely involved in our Life Chances work and am so proud of the line managers in departments and agencies who, through their support, are making a job in the civil service a reality for those who otherwise might not have had the chance to make their contribution. This year sees nearly 1000 new starters through 30 schemes across the Civil Service.
It reminds me that sometimes being a good regulator means helping to clear obstacles out of the way!
All eleven Commissioners spend a lot of our time doing what the law requires of us including chairing competitions for the most senior appointments in the Civil Service. I’ve done that now for the recruitment of over 100 Directors, Directors General, Permanent Secretaries, Chief Executives, Chief Operating Officers, Chief Digital Information Officers, Regional School Commissioners, Chief Medical Officers and Chief Scientific Advisers, Chief Finance, People and Commercial Officers and HM Trade Commissioners. It’s been not only a privilege but a voyage of discovery as the rich diversity of background and experience of candidates is matched only by the huge variety of operating cultures and challenges across the  departments, agencies and ALBs we regulate. Unlike most Commissioners, I was fortunate myself to enjoy a civil service career that spanned operational, diplomatic and more traditional civil service leadership roles and having surveyed the scene for the past five years I can assure that that opportunity is certainly still there for you now.
Over the last 2 years as the Commission has worked through the challenges of COVID we’ve discovered that we can rely on improved technology to interview online and be confident that we are making fair appointments. Additionally, we’re now seeing that the investments in technology that the civil service has made to enable remote working means recruitment competitions are drawing in candidates from right across the country for posts that previously required attendance in buildings in Whitehall and search firms tell us that is becoming a positive attractor for those looking to join the civil service. That can only be positive in helping realise the government’s new strategic objectives of levelling up, developing Places for Growth and increasing the ‘porosity’ of the senior civil service to external experience.
Finally, before I - quite literally - sign off, there’s important work to be done chairing the sub group of Commissioners who each year undertake the detailed, if less visible, regulatory work assuring that departments, agencies and ALBs are compliant with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act in making appointment to the civil service on merit, following fair and open competition. You might not be aware, but your Permanent Secretary or Chief Executive gets an annual letter rating your organisation as ‘Good’, ‘Fair’ or ‘Poor’ on the basis of the Commission’s audit of recruitment practice, taking account of your own People Survey feedback on Civil Service Code awareness and practice, and of evidence of positive action and progress on diversity. Over the five years I’ve been a Commissioner, we’ve seen the number of Good and Improving departments and agencies rise, but we also report that a number are persistently Poor too.
Such is the lot of the modern regulator - to enable, to support, and to challenge and call out poor practice where it exists. It’s been a privilege to play a part in ensuring we have a brilliant civil service - here’s to you all and your future success!
Please find attached the job pack to apply for the role of Commissioner:
First Commissioner, Baroness Gisela Stuart of Edgbaston talks about the role of a Commissioner:
Eighteen departments and agencies have made it onto the shortlist for the Commissioners’ first ever ‘Mark of Excellence’.
The new ‘Mark of Excellence’ will be awarded to recruitment campaigns that demonstrate outstanding innovation and commitment in the recruitment of diverse candidates across all grades into the Civil Service.
The judging panel, led by Natalie Campbell MBE (Civil Service Commissioner), includes Baroness Stuart, (First Civil Service Commissioner), Antonia Romeo (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice) Gerri Clement MBE (Co-founder and Vice-Chair of the Cross-Government Social Mobility Network), Paul Willgoss MBE (Vice-Chair of the Civil Service Disability Network) and Roxanne Ohene (Co-Chair of the Senior Civil Service Race to the Top Network) will now choose a winner from shortlisted recruitment campaigns by:
- Department for International Trade
- Food Standards Agency
- Competition and Markets Authority
- Department for Culture, Media and Sport
- Crown Prosecution Service
- Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
- UK Hydrographic Office
- Scottish Government
- Office for National Statistics
- Ministry of Justice
- Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
- Intellectual Property Office
- Defence Equipment & Support
- HM Treasury
- HM Revenue and Customs
- Government Social Research Service
- Government Economic Service
- Department for Transport
The award will champion diversity in its broadest sense, supporting the Government’s priority of ‘levelling up’ and the Civil Service reform agenda of an innovative and skilled Civil Service.
Natalie Campbell MBE said:
“We have had such a great response to this award – the first of its kind. As a Commissioner, I know there is some outstanding recruitment practice across government. We want to showcase that, highlighting innovative and thoughtful initiatives that attract strong and diverse fields for Civil Service Jobs. It’s not going to be easy choosing from this shortlist but the panel will want to see that the approach is creative, making a tangible difference to recruitment and is something that can be applied more widely.”
Winners and case studies will be published in the Commission's Annual Report & Accounts, on its website and throughout Civil Service social media channels.
Winners will be able to publicise their achievement with an award logo on all their recruitment advertisements for one year.
The latest Civil Service Commission diversity event took place via Zoom on Wednesday 23rd February.
Aimed specifically at those from diverse backgrounds who are interested in entering the Senior Civil Service, this free online event was led by independent Civil Service Commissioner, Natalie Campbell MBE. Other speakers included Paul Gray (Civil Service Commissioner), Seonaid Webb MBE (Deputy Director, DEFRA and Deputy Disability Champion), Gerri Clement MBE (Programme Director, CSHR) and Nagesh Reddy (Portfolio Director, DWP).
Topics covered included:
- Learn about different pathways into the Senior Civil Service
- Hear a diverse panel of senior civil servants talk about their own experiences
- Find out about the recruitment process and get interview tips and guidance on making your application
The full recording of the event can be found below:
People often ask me, ‘what made you want to become a Civil Service Commissioner?’ Nearly five years on my answer today is slightly different from Day One on the job. I am a public servant and social entrepreneur in equal measure, I have a sense of duty and an overwhelming desire to do what I can to benefit society. I was once asked, what happened in your life that made you want to help people, and my response back was, what happened in your life that made you not want to help people. I believe it is the gift we have as humans.
When I joined the Commission board in 2017, I wanted to make a difference. In terms of one aspect of the work we do, chairing competitions, I profoundly believe that appointments - especially leadership appointments - must be open, fair and based on merit. What has shifted is my own understanding of the system I am in as a regulator, the nuance, and the need to balance broader ministerial or political aims, the expertise already in the dept and the skills that need to be hired. I am an idealist at heart, but I very quickly learnt that pragmatism gets better results in government. As I started chairing open recruitment competitions and getting under the skin of departments, I also wanted to make excellent hires because I realised civil servants are what I term ‘Architects of Society’. I am in awe of the work done across the UK, especially over the past two years, to make sure that society functions for the betterment of people and planet. So, when someone asks me today, why I am a Civil Service Commissioner I say it is because I want to contribute to the decision-making table that determines who the ‘Architects of Society’ are.
With this in mind I tried to find fixes for my frustrations; I believe the pace of change in relation to equity, diversity and inclusion has been slow. To help ‘fix’ this my inner idealist had grand plans; we launched ‘Demystifying the Commission’ sessions for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Senior Civil Service leaders because I wanted to unpack the opaque nature of the ‘chaired competition process’ I encouraged black and minority ethnic staff to be vocal about their ambitions; I declared on stages ‘tell your bosses boss what job you want, that is how you succeed’. I know now that ‘the system’ remains bound by rules of engagement and that concepts of merit, or fairness don’t work on their own. This is the raw truth. I hope it is not a future fact.
Great strides have been made in terms of gender balance and flexible working and supporting Veterans, Care Leavers and ex-offenders into Civil Service employment. However, I rarely hear conversations about LGBTQI+ inclusion and as a Commission, we know there can be problems in collecting or reporting that data. Progress on disability and race across the Senior Civil Service remains painfully poor. I am hopeful that a focus on social mobility can address some of the cultural issues. Why is this important? Well, the senior majority of the Architects of Society do not represent the people they serve. This must change.
So, in my final months I will continue to push, encourage and promote diversity across the Civil Service, including unearthing excellent recruitment practice so it can be shown and shared more widely.
This week we launched the Commissioners’ Mark of Excellence to encourage and share innovation and best practice in attracting and recruiting a broad and diverse field of candidates for Civil Service roles. If your department or organisation is audited by the Commission, you can apply for the new Mark. Winners will be highlighted in our Annual Report and able to stamp the mark on their recruitment advertising for one year.
I know there are some excellent examples out there where teams have considered how to properly open up recruitment to a broader field of candidates and, as a result, have hired individuals with new talents and experiences into and across the Civil Service. I want to hear from you – tell us about what worked so we can share your learning with others and celebrate your effort!
In my last few months at the Commission, this is my final push before I hand over to a new or future Commissioner, please get involved and apply. It has been a privilege and honour to be a part of the Civil Service Commission and even when I finish my term, I’ll be willing change on from the sidelines with just as much energy.
The next Civil Service Commission diversity event will take place via Zoom on Wednesday 23rd February, 2.00 - 3.30pm.
Do you aspire to reach the Senior Civil Service but have no idea about the route to get there? Do you think your non-traditional background means you won’t be successful in applying for roles in the Senior Civil Service? Think again.
The Civil Service Commission regulates recruitment into the Civil Service to make sure it is fair, open and merit-based. Our Commissioners personally chair recruitment competitions for Senior Civil Service roles.
Aimed specifically at those from diverse backgrounds who are interested in entering the Senior Civil Service, this free online event will be led by independent Civil Service Commissioner, Natalie Campbell MBE. Other speakers include Paul Gray (Civil Service Commissioner), Seonaid Webb MBE (Deputy Director, DEFRA and Deputy Disability Champion), Gerri Clement MBE (Programme Director, CSHR) and Nagesh Reddy (Portfolio Director, DWP).
- Learn about different pathways into the Senior Civil Service
- Hear a diverse panel of senior civil servants talk about their own experiences
- Find out about the recruitment process and get interview tips and guidance on making your application
- Opportunity for Questions and Answers via Slido
A recording of this event will later be made available via the Commission’s website if you are unable to attend on the day.
Please submit any questions to the panel (including your CS grade) via Slido prior to the event (as well as during) using: #DivSCS
The Eventbrite link to sign up for the event can be found below:
It has been a real privilege to serve as the interim First Civil Service Commissioner since September 2021, when Ian Watmore completed his fixed five-year term, and the Government started the open competition to recruit the next First Civil Service Commissioner.
The Commission has had an exceptionally busy few months, with the arrival of four new Commissioners to join the Board and Departments continuing to run very high levels of senior competitions chaired by Commissioners. Each of our 10 Commissioners is linked with specific departments or professions to build collaborative relationships, while maintaining the balance as its regulator.
The Commission’s role as independent regulator of Civil Service appointments is an important part of the constitutional ‘checks and balances’ in our system. Put simply, the Commission is responsible for providing assurance to the public that people joining the Civil Service have been recruited on merit, after a fair and open process. The Commissioners chair senior level recruitment panels but do not have a role in retention or internal moves and promotions of civil servants: that is a matter for management within Government Departments.
As a Board, we have long been in favour of allowing both existing civil servants and external recruits to compete for posts. Ultimately, it is a decision for Departments and Ministers on whether a vacancy is opened up to external applicants.
At times, attracting external candidates to apply for Civil Service positions can be challenging, particularly for more technical and specialist functions. The Commission plays an important role here in making sure that appointments processes are accessible and fair to all, and attract a diverse field, from how adverts are worded through to assessments that may be more familiar to some than others.
Our job as the chair of senior recruitment competitions is to help the panel test candidates’ skills and experience against the criteria and identify the best overall candidate for a specific position. All candidates must go through the same presentations, psychological testing, staff engagement exercises and media tests as well as traditional panel interviews. There are also opportunities for reserve list candidates to be offered other positions, if they require very similar skills, and the Commission supports efforts to increase efficiency and avoid duplication.
And of course, many candidates, who at the point of applying are existing Civil Servants, may have spent a large part of their careers in the private or voluntary sector. It is clear that the old stereotypes don’t really reflect the modern Civil Service.
As Chair, Commissioners want to see that Departments plan their appointment processes carefully, to make sure they have considered the diversity of panel membership, included a Non-Executive Director or key stakeholder, and encouraged Ministers to meet with Commissioners early in the process to answer any questions and meet shortlisted candidates appropriately as part of the process.
To deliver the government’s priorities, the Civil Service must continually recruit, train and retain people with the relevant skills and experience. The Commission also supports Civil Service initiatives that encourage movement between the civil service and external organisations to help build new or specialist skills and expertise in the longer term. The Commission champions diversity in its broadest sense, supporting the Government’s priority of civil service reform and levelling up and launched the new “Mark of Excellence” to showcase outstanding innovation and commitment in the recruitment of diverse candidates into the Civil Service on Feb 2nd 2022.
Undoubtedly the Covid -19 pandemic has been a huge national challenge. As its regulator, the Commission has reacted to enable the government and the Civil Service to quickly bring in the range of skills necessary to serve the country through this time.
For example, the Commission agreed the appointment of 5 Directors, 4 Deputy Directors and a Director General for the Vaccines Taskforce to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The Director General was seconded in to develop a long-term vaccines strategy. We also assisted the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service to redesign their recruitment processes, when face-to-face recruitment was not possible, moving to virtual role play whilst maintaining fair and open competition.
What has always fascinated me about the Civil Service is the huge range and diversity of roles. As well as the draw of public service, it offers individuals truly unique opportunities and development and great potential for the public sector to learn from other sectors and vice versa.
On 9th December 2021 the Government announced Baroness (Gisela) Stuart of Edgbaston as the preferred candidate following an open competition to recruit the next First Commissioner. She was formally appointed after she appeared before the House of Commons PACAC for pre-appointment scrutiny on 3rd February.
I would like to thank my fellow Commissioners, the Chief Executive and the secretariat team for supporting me so ably during my period as interim First Commissioner and very warmly welcome Gisela as she takes up this important public role.
Civil Service Commissioner (2017-22), interim First Civil Service Commissioner Sep’21-Feb’22)
The Civil Service Commission is launching a ‘Commissioners’ Mark of Excellence’ to showcase outstanding innovation and commitment in the recruitment of diverse candidates across all grades into the Civil Service.
The award will champion diversity in its broadest sense, supporting the Government’s priority of ‘levelling up’ and the Civil Service reform agenda of an innovative and skilled Civil Service.
With our shared aims of encouraging people of all backgrounds to reach their potential in the civil service, cross-government networks have endorsed and support this award, along with the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case:
“This new award will highlight innovative hiring practices that help attract and recruit diverse fields of candidates for a career in the Civil Service. The Civil Service has an incredible array of different roles and functions – from data analysts to work coaches and prison officers. Recruiting talented individuals, from a wide range of backgrounds across the United Kingdom, is vital to effectively deliver government services and ensure the Civil Service truly reflects the country it serves.”
How to Apply
The Commissioners’ Mark of Excellence is open to all departments and organisations that are audited by the Civil Service Commission. If you would like to be considered please refer to the compliance scorecard survey which is sent to you as part of the Commission’s compliance audit in March or ask your Head of HR.
The award will be judged by a panel, led by Natalie Campbell MBE, made up of independent Commissioners, representatives from cross government networks and private sector figures. The Mark of Excellence will be given to the department/s or organisation/s that have demonstrated consistent excellent practice in promoting a career in the Civil Service and widening opportunities to reach a more diverse demographic.
- Improving wording of job descriptions and advertising strategy to encourage greater diversity.
- Outreach – for example, leaders working with schools and organisations across the country to provide mentoring, employability skills training and work experience.
- Schemes and programmes - for example, the Care Leaver Internship Scheme, Summer Diversity Internship, Early Diversity Internship Programme, Autism Exchange Internship, Going Forward into Employment, Movement to Work etc.
- Entering the Top 75 Social Mobility Employers register for the first time.
- Great Place to Work for Veterans initiative
Winners and case studies will be published in the Commission's Annual Report & Accounts, on its website and throughout Civil Service social media channels. On the back of the Commission’s successful ‘Diverse senior leaders talk about working in the Civil Service’ blog series that we regularly publish, we will interview the winning teams to both commend their efforts and ask how they achieved their diversity success to act as inspiration for other departments. Winners will be able to publicise their achievement with an award logo on all their recruitment advertisements for one year.
For further information on how to apply please contact Heidi Ferguson - firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell us a little about yourself and your career background?
I studied an Economics and Accountancy degree at University with vague thoughts of becoming an accountant, however I had started to become fascinated by the emerging possibilities for computing and so, when I left University, I was very excited to join ICL, a large UK-based computer manufacturer. I trained initially as a COBOL programmer (apparently a rare skill these days!) and then as a data analyst and worked as a data analyst for the next 5 years or so before being given the chance to run the company’s Data Analytics business, which was the first time I had had full accountability for all aspects of business management. I have to say that I loved the responsibility and ran the business unit for the next five years.
At about the height of the so called “dot.com boom” in 1998 I moved to KPMG Consulting to run their High-Tech practice, a business and technology consulting group that worked with clients across the High-Tech sector and with many of the “dot.com” start-up businesses. Needless to say that was great fun but also a bit of a rollercoaster ride as the “dot.com boom” quickly turned into the “dot.com bust”! KPMG then gave me my first real taste of working with the Public Sector as I moved to run KPMG Consulting’s Health Applications business.
From there I became a Director of a Public Sector consulting business called Detica and through the 2000s we had a phenomenal time, growing the business at about 40% per annum until the company was acquired by BAe Systems in 2009. That seemed like a good time to move on so I joined the French IT Services business Capgemini, and over the course of 8 years I was responsible for their Public and Private Sector businesses in the UK and Northern Europe.
My final career move in the commercial sector was to become Senior Vice President for NTT DATA in Northern Europe. NTT is a large Tokyo-based conglomerate, 60th largest business in the world, running some of the world’s largest Public Sector digital transformation programmes and I was responsible for that work in Northern Europe.
I have always had a strong belief in the importance of public services for the wellbeing of all in our society and so in 2019 I decided to step back from my commercial business roles and concentrate on Non-Executive work with Government in the UK. Over time I was lucky enough to be offered Non-Exec Director roles with the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Health and Social Care, BEIS and the Department for Education. In many ways this has been the most rewarding work of my career, and so I was delighted when I had the opportunity to apply to join the Civil Service Commission as a Commissioner.
Away from work I am married with four children, three grown up daughters and a son who is just about to sit his GCSE exams. My wife is the Business Manager for a school here in Hampshire, one of our daughters is a mental wellbeing practitioner for the NHS, one is a teacher and one has followed me into the digital and technology sector. In our spare time my son and I seem to spend most of our time travelling around the south of England watching football and cricket matches, some of which he plays in. Idyllic in the summer, pretty cold in the winter!
What made you want to apply to be a Civil Service Commissioner?
Throughout my business career it has always been clear to me that one of the most important things for a business leader to do is to ensure that all leadership talent can blossom and fulfil its potential. And that ethos is at the heart of the Civil Service Commission. Moreover I have seen first-hand, in my own businesses, that diversity of experience and thought is critical for any organisation, and can be a real, significant differentiator and an enabler of extraordinary organisational performance. And if through my work as a Civil Service Commissioner I can help to promulgate that culture in the UK Civil Service I will be delighted.
As a new Commissioner, what do you think the Civil Service could do better to help attract a wider range of candidates?
The UK Civil Service is a great place to work, with a huge range of roles and opportunities which can provide the most rewarding career experience. We should think about how we articulate the “whole” Civil Service offer, including career potential, culture and environment, purposefulness, geographic coverage, all rewards and benefits, breadth of opportunity, etc.
Which Departments will you be the linked Commissioner for?
I will be Link Commissioner for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and for the Department for International Trade. I will also be the Link Commissioner for the Government Commercial Function. All of which I am looking forward to working with enormously.