Civil Service Commissioner June Milligan reflects on her role as she finishes her term

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 [73] 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!

Richard Webb
HM Government logo