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CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.
Taken before the Public Administration Committee
on Wednesday 15 December 2010
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Chairman)
Nick de Bois
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Rt Hon Dame Janet Paraskeva DBE, First Civil Service Commissioner, and Dame Janet Gaymer DBE, QC, Commissioner for Public Appointments, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Good morning. It is a great pleasure to have both of you here. I wonder whether you could identify yourselves for the record.
Dame Janet Paraskeva : Janet Paraskeva.
Dame Janet Gaymer : Janet Gaymer.
Q2 Chair: I understand that each of you is to give a little opening remark, which would be very welcome.
Dame Janet Gaymer : I will go first, if I may. Good morning. First, I would like to say thank you to this Committee in its various manifestations for having supported the work of my office over the last five years. It has been very important to us. In looking at those five years, I thought it might be helpful for you this morning to have my view on what I have been doing and what I have made progress with, I hope. The first thing I should say is that when I became Commissioner in 2006 I set out to modernise the workings of my office so that it was, as I described it, fit for purpose for the 21st century but, more importantly, also to be a strategic regulator to focus on risk and move towards a more principles-based system. In doing that I have been trying to balance the principles against the process but bearing in mind the purpose, which is appointment on merit.
Looking at those five years, there are five areas of progress that I would like to share with you this morning. The first is, and they are in no particular order of importance, the efforts that have been made to professionalise the role of the independent public appointments assessors who sit on selection panels. We have done that by introducing an accreditation scheme and an annual conference so they can share best practice. They also now have a code of conduct, which they did not have before. Secondly, we have tried to improve communication. We have redesigned the website; we have used technology for the purposes of communication; the annual report has gone online; and we revised the kite mark, which goes on publicity, so it is more understandable to the general public. Previously, the kite mark simply had initials that no one understood. The kite mark now expressly refers to regulation by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Thirdly, we have moved towards more risk-based regulation. We have introduced a compliance statement for permanent secretaries, a self-assessment tool and a risk management committee. We have tried to move towards more principles-based regulation. We did a major consultation on the Code of Practice, both on ministerial involvement and generally, and that has been very well received by those who run the processes. Lastly, we have made progress towards understanding the barriers to diversity in public appointments: why people do not apply. That is all I am going to say.
Q3 Chair: Thank you very much.
Dame Janet Paraskeva : I also extend my thanks for the work of this Committee and the way we have been able to work with it, particularly on the legislation with which all parties agreed. I would like to mention just a few things we have achieved over the last five years. There are two main functions carried out by the office of the Civil Service Commissioner: the regulation of recruitment to the Civil Service and the hearing of appeals against the code. On the first one, we have chaired as a commissioner team 388 open competitions at director level and above. About half of these have resulted in somebody from outside the Civil Service taking on one of those roles, and 30% have been women. I have personally chaired 36 of those competitions, mainly for the post of permanent secretary and very many of them in the last year. I am pleased to say that when I arrived the ratio of men to women at permanent secretary level was 10 to one and it is now three to one, which I think shows that there is real benefit in appointment on merit. If you apply merit, senior women will come through.
During the last three years in particular we have also worked to a top 200 protocol that has had within it a presumption of open competition so that departments have to consider, first, whether they should open the post to people outside the Civil Service, either in the wider public sector or the private sector. That has led to the enrichment of the Civil Service by people with financial, IT and HR skills, which are the kinds of professional skills that the Civil Service has not naturally bred within itself over its history. It is now doing very much more of that. This has led to significant improvements in the professionalism of HR, which has made it possible for us as commissioners to be confident in the delegation of our duties to departments and introduce the principles-based regulation that we did during our time. The other thing we have done during those few years is to increase and toughen up our compliance monitoring audit. That is the audit that we do of departments to make sure that where we have delegated to them the responsibilities for recruiting against our principles, they are actually following the rules and not misbehaving, frankly, so we have toughened that up. I think that has been welcomed by departments.
Recruitment is one side of our work. On the other side there is the Civil Service code and our responsibility to hear any appeals against it. When I became First Commissioner I was quite surprised that there were so few appeals under the code. I asked myself whether that meant everything was fine or that people did not know how to raise an issue. We agreed with this Committee that we would audit departments’ procedures for people to know how to raise a problem. That has resulted in excellent cooperation from departments, but it did demonstrate to us that some departments lacked a very robust structure and that in the worst departments people were just coming to terms with the fact that there was a structure at all. There were other departments where that structure was exemplary and staff knew exactly what to do if they had any concerns. Therefore, by publishing best practice and repeating the audit, we hope to improve that right across all the departments involved. The other part of that is to make sure that people know about the code itself. It is part of their contract. People are given the code when they first come into the Civil Service. Having a code of values is fine but it is of no use unless people remember what it is and are living those values, which I think civil servants do by and large. But to know properly whether members of the Civil Service actually really did understand the code and if there were things they needed to raise when they saw colleagues misbehaving, we managed to put in the staff survey questions about awareness, because we ourselves began to be involved with departments and the Cabinet Office in promoting the code at various Civil Service events. We were very pleased to see that one of the few scores that increased in the recent staff survey was that which recorded the fact that people now know more about the code and how to report concerns than they did before the work that we started. For us, whether people actually know what to do is an important measure. Departments may say they have improved their structures, but the fact is that the staff survey has demonstrated there is an increase in people’s knowledge of what to do and we now have more appeals coming to us and are able to deal them, sometimes informally and sometimes formally. To finish, it would be remiss of me not to mention again the work we have done with this Committee on the Civil Service legislation. It has taken 154 years to deliver it but we got there in the end. We now have a commission and Civil Service code on a statutory footing-that legislation was supported by all parties-which safeguards the impartiality of our Civil Service.
Q4 Chair: Thank you for that. Before you came in we were discussing that the Civil Service code is justiciable, in that if Ministers or civil servants act outside the code, it would be included in any possible judicial review.
Dame Janet Paraskeva : The Civil Service code is part of people’s terms and conditions of contract, so if they break it, it is a disciplinary issue.
Q5 Chair: Maybe the ministerial code should be the same. Can each of you say briefly in a sentence what you think has been your greatest achievement during your period of office?
Dame Janet Gaymer : Shall I go first?
Chair: It is like your favourite desert island disc.
Dame Janet Gaymer : Embedding the principles of the Code in people’s consciousness.
Chair: The Code of Practice on public appointments?
Dame Janet Gaymer : Yes.
Dame Janet Paraskeva : In one sentence, I think it is the co-operative work we now do with departments in regulating entry to the Civil Service. I think that now works very effectively.
Q6 Chair: What do each of you feel about your respective roles now being combined in one person?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : It is really important to be clear that the roles have not been combined; the roles are, as we have always argued, separate. What is happening is that one person will be asked to deliver both roles. It is terribly important that we are clear about that. Janet and I have always agreed that the real difference between us is that the regulation in which I am involved is about the employment of impartial civil servants and the work of my colleague, if I may speak for Janet, is the appointment by Ministers of people to run arm’s length bodies. Those roles are quite different and must be kept separate. What is being asked is that one person carries out both roles but also that efficiencies are brought about by having a common back office with greater efficiencies in the support services that we require, and with a greater similarity in the appointment procedures. After all, we are both about appointment on merit.
Q7 Chair: That could be interpreted as saying that you are trying to like it but you are not quite sure.
Dame Janet Paraskeva : No, no. I think it is a positive move. I do not have any reservations about it.
Chair: Public Appointments Commissioner?
Dame Janet Gaymer : I have a very simple view about this. Anything which will improve appointment processes is a good thing. I think that both these systems have good things that they can learn from each other, so to the extent that that will happen, I think that is a very good thing. I am also always in favour of efficiency, so bringing the back office together is also a very good thing.
Q8 Chair: So, you are both in favour of combining this role?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : Not combining the role, no.
Chair: Are we not splitting hairs if it is one person?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : I do not think so. If you think about the Cabinet Secretary, he is also head of the home Civil Service. Those are quite different roles and one man does them very well. In this case we are asking one man to do the two roles of public appointments and Civil Service appointments. It is not quite as big as Sir Gus O’Donnell’s role but it is the same principle. They are two related functions.
Q9 Chair: Were you consulted?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : Yes.
Chair: You were both consulted?
Dame Janet Gaymer : Yes. There was no formal consultation, but we were given advance notice of what was being proposed, so we did have an opportunity to comment.
Q10 Chair: And your view was taken, albeit informally?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : Yes.
Q11 Chair: We are British; we know how the system works. Should there have been wider or more formal consultation?
Dame Janet Gaymer : I have to say that, because one of my principles is openness and transparency, I always think that if there is a possibility of doing formal consultation, you should do it because it is the right thing to do.
Q12 Chair: Funnily enough, the Minister agreed with that; he thought there should have been more formal consultation. Was it done in a rush?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : Not particularly. Interestingly, and Janet and I were laughing about this just yesterday, when we were both appointed each of us was asked whether we would like the other one’s job as well. This has clearly been in the minds of Cabinet Office officials for a very long time. Neither of us wanted to do both jobs because we had applied for the one that interested us. As I say, five years ago there was clearly a thought that these were two roles that one person might be able to undertake on their own.
Q13 Lindsay Roy: Dame Janet Gaymer, I was interested in your work on risk-based regulation. You said you had introduced self-assessment. How are you sure that it is robust self-assessment and not self-delusion?
Dame Janet Gaymer : Let me explain a little more about what we have been doing. When I became Commissioner, I had a power in the Order in Council to audit processes. The practice had been to do a regular audit on a three-year cycle. The problem with audit is that it is backward-looking. I am a great believer in prevention rather than cure. I wanted to look at what I could do to encourage people, first, to think in terms of the principles and, second, to try to identify trends of risk before they became nasty. I put in place what I call my three-legged stool. One leg is the regular audit, which we have kept; the second is self-assessment, which is done in two ways; one is a compliance statement that is signed by the permanent secretary at the end of every year. The statement sets out where, in the view of the permanent secretary, there has been a breach of the Code but, more importantly, what they are doing about it. Also, as part of the self-assessment, we piloted a self-assessment tool that had been designed by the auditors. The object of this was for departments basically to score themselves against the principles. I did not want them to think about the process but to sit down with the principles and say, "Well, how did we do against those during the year?" We have only done that for one year. I shall be suggesting to Sir David that one of the things he might do is review that and see what he thinks about it and whether he thinks it has worked and so on. The third leg of the stool is a risk management committee. That has met twice. It is made up of independent public appointments assessors and departmental contacts. The auditors may be invited to its meetings but not necessarily. The aim of that is to spot risks that seem to be happening in departments on more than one occasion so that if we think something is becoming a problem, we can do something about it. Therefore, the answer to that question is that it is part of a bigger picture.
Q14 Lindsay Roy: From the evidence you have so far, you believe there is a rigorous and robust approach to this?
Dame Janet Gaymer : I always think you can be more rigorous. I suppose that is what being a regulator is all about, but we have made a start. I think it is helping. To give you an example, one issue that has come up on a number of occasions is audit trails in departments. When I come to investigate an appointment process I ask whether the documentation is there for me to say that the process is being run properly? There have been gaps in those audit trails, so that is the first subject on which we have been focusing.
Q15 Nick de Bois: To go back to the point about the one person, two jobs role that you explained, I can understand why you endorse that, but what I am struggling to understand is how one person doing two jobs can do it in three days a week whereas your total time was effectively six days between the two of you. Does it suggest that there is now less to do because of all the work you have done, or, given that he has to embed reform and now look at the Civil Service Commission on a statutory basis, is that achievable? It is quite dramatic.
Dame Janet Paraskeva : It is achievable because of the degree of delegation over the last two years in particular that I have been able to introduce. I now have a team of 13 commissioners, so it has been possible to delegate to them many of the functions of the First Commissioner. They now handle the director general appointments that my predecessor handled, so I have been able to free up that time. Indeed, it has to be said that had I not been faced with so many permanent secretary appointments that we knew were coming up, I might have had quite a light load. As it turned out, the last nine months have been a particularly heavy load because of the numbers of permanent secretaries coming up to retirement.
Q16 Nick de Bois: Is that sustainable given the financial climate? Given your extra staffing resource, will that not potentially come under threat under the new regime, and therefore would the workload not go back up?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : Is the number of commissioners sustainable?
Nick de Bois: Absolutely. Because I presume that they also have supporting staff.
Dame Janet Paraskeva : No. We have reduced our back office by three people; we have reduced the number of commissioners to 13 because we thought it was better to have a smaller team with a little bit more time so one could have greater consistency.
Nick de Bois: So you have reduced the commissioners?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : We have reduced the number of commissioners. The number of appointments in which we are involved is also reducing because we have a recruitment freeze, and the salary cap has also affected the number of appointments being made. Interestingly, departments are now beginning to use commissioners to help them with their succession planning and the kind of work they must do as they are downsizing.
Chair: We will come to permanent secretaries a bit later. Can we come back to that later?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : Yes, okay.
Dame Janet Gaymer : I think the obvious issue from my point of view is the reduction in my remit as Commissioner for Public Appointments because of the bonfire of the quangos. If you look at the list of bodies whose processes I regulate, as a result of the review about 30% of the bodies on my list will cease to be, or will be changed in some way. I am also responsible for the regulation of a considerable number of NHS bodies. About 270 bodies will leave the remit. If you put all that together, you could be looking at a reduction in my remit of between 30% and 50% of the appointment processes I regulate. That consideration is quite an important one.
Q17 Nick de Bois: Interestingly, you both come from outside the Civil Service sector. For the first time in a long time we are returning to an appointment within the Civil Service sector. Do you think that the requirement for independence, which would apply to those from outside, is as important as ever but that the appearance of having people from the outside coming in is of equal importance?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : If you mean the independence of the role, that is absolute. Whether a person comes from within the Civil Service or outside it, it must be the case that that individual comes in knowing and understanding that he or she is independent of the Civil Service itself because that person is there to regulate it. One might say that it is easier if you have never been part of the Civil Service, but as Civil Service commissioners we have always looked for some of our colleagues to have come from within the Civil Service itself. There is a history of the First Civil Service Commissioner always being a civil servant. Until about three ago they were always senior civil servants who came into the post. When we recruit commissioners, we make sure that we have a balance of experience on the commissioner team of people who have been senior civil servants, people who come from the wider public sector and those who come from the private sector, and therefore to have a First Civil Service Commissioner who comes from one or other of those three is not odd.
Q18 Nick de Bois: Would you say that Ministers would prefer people from within the Civil Service to have the new role or indeed would have had your roles, namely not coming from outside of the Civil Service? Do you detect a mood there?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : I cannot speak for Ministers.
Dame Janet Gaymer : To add to what Janet said, the issue here is independence, whether it is actual or perceived. I can see there might be concerns-indeed, you have expressed them yourself-about independence, but at the end of the day this depends on how the individual does the job. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and it is down to Sir David to demonstrate that independence in the roles that he is to perform.
Nick de Bois: We are agreed with that.
Q19 Lindsay Roy: How cost-effective and fair is the engagement of recruitment consultants to head-hunt for high-ranking public sector or Civil Service posts?
Dame Janet Gaymer : First, I should point out that my Code of Practice does not require the use of executive search or recruitment consultants. This is a decision that departments make looking at the kind of appointment they are trying to fill. It may be an expert appointment; it may be a special skill that is required; it may be a very high profile appointment, so the decision at the end of the day is with the department. The second point about cost is that my understanding is that the Cabinet Office ran a proper tendering process to create call-off contracts for recruitment consultants and that is the pool, if I can call it that, of recruitment consultants from which the departments then draw their recruitment consultants, should they decide to use them. But the thing I need to make clear is that my Code does not require the use of recruitment consultants; that is a decision made by departments in the light of the particular circumstances of the vacancy they are trying to fill.
Q20 Lindsay Roy: So, there is an empowerment in relation to fitness for purpose?
Dame Janet Gaymer : Effectively, that decision is made by the department, yes.
Q21 Lindsay Roy: Is it not more open, inclusive and fairer to advertise most of the key posts?
Dame Janet Gaymer : Absolutely. It is an absolute requirement in my Code of Practice that all appointments should be publicised. I use the word "publicised" rather than "advertised" because the way you publicise an appointment may vary according to the kind of community you are trying to reach and the kind of appointment you are trying to fill. I have to say that one of the major achievements of the public appointments regime in the last 15 years is that publicisation of public body vacancies is now taken as normal; it is not seen as anything revolutionary. I have to say that the private sector has yet to get this point.
Q22 Lindsay Roy: That is something of which you are very proud?
Dame Janet Gaymer : Yes; I am very proud of it.
Q23 Chair: Do you have concerns about the way that head-hunters are used? Do either of you ever have concern that a head-hunter is used to validate an appointment that would otherwise have been seen as a bit too convenient for the Executive to make?
Dame Janet Gaymer : There are two ways in which I interface with recruitment consultants in order to answer that question. I see recruitment consultants on the call-off contracts; I make a point of seeing them twice a year. I basically tell them what has been happening in my area. I tell them if I am unhappy about something that I have seen starting to happen, or whatever it is. It can be anything. It also gives them an opportunity to tell me what is driving them mad about the public appointment process.
Q24 Chair: Have you ever complained about the use of outside consultants, or the way they do this?
Dame Janet Gaymer : The second point I was going to make was that of course I investigate complaints about public appointment processes. In some of those complaints, recruitment consultants have been used. If I think a recruitment consultant has not behaved properly, I do not hesitate to say so in the final conclusion that I send to departments.
Q25 Robert Halfon: Your successor was employed by head-hunters. Why is that necessary? Why can’t you just advertise it on the Civil Service website and let people apply? Why do you need to waste taxpayers’ money in this way?
Dame Janet Gaymer : The first point is that of course the competition for filling the post of my successor, Sir David, was not one that I regulated, obviously; it was a competition that was run using publicity. I understand that the post was publicised on the public appointments website. The Cabinet Office decided that it would use executive search so that was used as part of the search process, but at the end of the day my understanding is that the competition run was one that aimed to produce a candidate who was appointed on merit.
Q26 Robert Halfon: But why does there need to be executive search at all? There is a difference between recruitment consultants and head-hunters; they are two different kinds of organisations.
Dame Janet Gaymer : You have to be very careful about the phraseology here.
Robert Halfon: But Saxton Bampfylde are head-hunters.
Dame Janet Gaymer : Yes.
Robert Halfon: Why is there any need to have them at all when you could have easily advertised?
Dame Janet Gaymer : You could do the process without them, yes.
Q27 Robert Halfon: So, why did the Cabinet Office decide this?
Dame Janet Gaymer : I think the Cabinet Office would have to answer that because they took the decision, but usually when departments decide to use executive search they want to have access to a broader database of potential candidates. It is one way of accessing a broader pool of candidates. One of the selling points, I suppose, of executive search is that executive search organisations maintain their own research facilities and databases of potential candidates. Therefore, when you hire an executive search organisation, you are basically given access to that intellectual property of that organisation; that is why you do it.
Q28 Robert Halfon: But if you advertise it openly those will be the kind of people who apply for it.
Dame Janet Gaymer : It is interesting how people come to apply for positions. I applied for this position when I saw an advertisement in the Sunday Times. I was not executive-searched for this post. Others may be executive-searched; they may be so busy that they do not have time to read the appointments pages of the Sunday Times. People come into positions from all sorts of different places. Quite frankly, the important point here is to have the broadest and most diverse pool of candidates you can possibly have when you start that competition. Once the competition starts everyone is treated the same, and the aim is to reach that appointment on merit at the end.
Q29 Robert Halfon: I just think that to use head-hunters, particularly the ones that you use, is a much more cosy way of doing it. You scratch my back, I scratch yours.
Dame Janet Gaymer : I should correct you. I do not use head-hunters; I do not make appointments.
Robert Halfon: The Civil Service.
Dame Janet Gaymer : I am not a civil servant.
Q30 Chair: I completely understand that, but you see the concern that Mr Halfon is teasing out?
Dame Janet Gaymer : Yes.
Chair: It seems to be quite a cosy little network of permanent secretaries, other senior figures in the Government in a network among the great and the good. As Sir David very honestly told us, though he might not have been referring to himself-I emphasise we have absolutely no criticism of his merits for the appointment he is taking-"There’s quite a lot of tapping on the shoulder that goes on both in the public and the private sector to fill jobs. That’s how it’s often done." We all recognise that, but given that is how it is being done, are you not at all concerned that head-hunters are being used just to create a disguise-an apparency of transparency-when in fact it is all a bit cosier than that?
Dame Janet Gaymer : I have to say no to you to that.
Chair: This is a very important reassurance.
Dame Janet Gaymer : The reason I am saying no to you is that what you describe here is what happens before the process starts. You are describing how candidates are pointed towards a position for which they then have to apply. When I start regulating that process from the beginning everyone is treated the same. There is no question of executive search from the moment they start that process until the very end. The executive search happens only before the process starts; it does not happen during it.
Q31 Chair: To finish this point, Sir David also told us that he had seen the advertisement for this job on the Cabinet Office website.
Dame Janet Gayme r : Good.
Chair: I stress that we are using him only as an example, we are not making any criticism of his appointment. That was the only place where your successor was advertised, though you may tell us that there was more publicity than that. We have not been informed about how many people applied, how big the shortlist was, or the variety of people who applied. How many departing chief executives of the top 500 companies do you suppose check the Cabinet Office website for advertisements for things they might go onto? It might appeal to the Westminster village, but I do not think it appeals much outside.
Dame Janet Gaymer : What my Code says about publicising a vacancy is that the publicity should be done in a proportionate, cost-effective way but appropriate to the vacancy. That will involve a judgment on the part of the department that is deciding what to do with the publicity. In this case, it was decided that it should be publicised only on the Cabinet Office website.
Q32 Chair: Perhaps because they wanted to fill it with an insider.
Dame Janet Gaymer : There may have been a cost issue; they may have decided that to put it in the Sunday Times or somewhere else was not a good use of taxpayers’ money. I do not know; I did not run the competition, so I cannot comment on it.
Chair: I appreciate that.
Dame Janet Paraskeva : I was going to add that one of the things we do know is that the number of people who come forward for Civil Service jobs from advertisement is relatively low and appropriate use of recruitment agents has brought not just a bigger field but a more diverse field. One of the things departments do when they decide to use a head-hunter is to direct them where to look. To take the example of the post of chief of defence matériel, one is looking for people with a different set of experience; or in the case of the IT programme delivery post in DWP, you need to have somebody who knows the field of IT to search among it; or in the case of the shareholder executive in BIS you would not be looking for the traditional Civil Service sets of skills. We would not necessarily know in the Civil Service who to phone and point the advert to, and those people are not necessarily the ones who read the papers. I have seen recruitment search used well where people who were not looking in the papers for jobs have been telephoned. Indeed, to add my own experience to Janet’s, I saw the advert for this job and thought, "That looks great, but what a shame. I can’t apply because I can’t start on the date they specify." I was then telephoned by a head-hunter and I said that I had not applied because the start date was January 1st and I had to finish my present contract and the work I needed to complete at the Law Society. I was then told by the head-hunter that he would go back to the Cabinet Office and see whether that mattered. I was then told to put in an application because they might be prepared to amend the date.
Q33 Chair: So, the advertisement was inaccurate?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : The advertisement was accurate but my understanding of when I might start needed to be interpreted by somebody, and had it not been for a recruitment agent, I might not be sitting here today.
Chair: Our loss.
Q34 Robert Halfon: Rather than spending thousands of pounds on adverts in the Sunday Times or your cosy network of the senior head-hunters that the Civil Service seems to hire, why can you not have just one website on which all the key jobs are advertised so that everybody who wants to apply would know about them and they would not have to go to each individual department? That would be much more cost-effective and less prone to accusations that you are just helping your mates.
Dame Janet Paraskeva : These are the kinds of views that ought to be shared with the head of HR in the Cabinet Office. As Janet and I have both said, our role is to regulate what happens, not to be in the business of making it happen.
Q35 Chair: That seems to be a very sensible idea, because different parts of the private sector now use very large websites to advertise for IT specialists, plumbers and so on and so forth.
Dame Janet Gaymer : That is true.
Q36 Chair: Is there any reason why a Minister or a department that is starting a recruitment process should not make a written statement to Parliament and then it would appear on the record in Hansard?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : Not that I know of.
Paul Flynn: Dame Janet Paraskeva, you gave us some very impressive figures on the balance between the sexes.
Chair: I think we are coming to that later on, Mr Flynn.
Paul Flynn: I have no idea what the choreography is, so-
Chair: Do stay. We are moving on.
Q37 Robert Halfon: Your successor is being asked to develop a more proportional, principled and risk-regulatory regime. What does that mean in the actualité?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : On the Civil Service Commissioner side, we have already introduced a set of principles. What we do is audit people’s behaviour against those principles, and where we identify risk, we deal with that department directly to try to improve their procedures. The risk of course is identified by the audit.
Q38 Robert Halfon: And in your view?
Dame Janet Gaymer : I suppose the best way to explain it is that it frees departments from process in relation to public appointments. I regulate appointment processes through a Code of Practice. We spent almost two years during my period as Commissioner consulting on that Code to try to get it as good and fit for purpose as we could, given the resources we had. What tends to happen in departments is that where there are a lot of public appointments, there will be a team in the department that becomes very well used to doing them; they know how to do them. That is not the case in all departments. You may have a situation where someone only does one public appointment process ever in their entire period in the department, so for that reason the Code of Practice includes at the moment guidance on process. It is guidance that includes mandatory provisions and provisions that give discretion to the department to think about, for example, the composition of selection panels. I suppose that a move to a totally principles-based process would mean the removal of those pages from the Code of Practice, so I would simply say to them, "The principles are these. Now do the process in accordance with those principles." My experience so far is that departments are not quite ready to do that because of the lack of expertise across the piece.
Q39 Robert Halfon: Do you think the Civil Service Commissioner’s recruitment principles provide a good model?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : As the Civil Service Commissioner, we believe they provide a good model. Right at the beginning when you asked me to say in one sentence what had been my greatest achievement, I said the relationship we had with departments. I said that because we now have a system where we have managed to delegate to departments, with a check through the audits that they are following those principles. That is much the better way to regulate, and it appears to work. We are able to identify weaknesses; we are then able to work with departments to improve those weaknesses, and that is what it is about.
Dame Janet Gaymer : I should just add one point about the principles. There is a very important difference between the principles. One of my principles is ministerial choice. In public appointments, the Minister is offered a choice of at least two appointable candidates. In relation to Civil Service appointments, there is a recommendation based on merit of one person only. That is a very important difference. That is one principle which divides us, if you see what I mean.
Q40 Chair: Is there not a danger that the whole system of recruitment, particularly in the case of high-level appointments, becomes very bureaucratised and over-regulated?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : I think the purpose of the introduction of our principles was to deregulate it a bit. The fact that we have delegated the responsibility to departments to get on with it and produced a much slimmer version of what used to be a half-inch thick wad of paper as a code demonstrates that we are trying to take some of the bureaucracy out of it and free departments to use the appropriate form of recruitment for the posts that they are recruiting for, provided they follow the principles we lay down. That is what we are checking. We have taken out the bureaucracy rather than put it in.
Q41 Chair: Today the CBI is publishing a paper about regulation in which it advances the idea that there should be a Code of Practice along the lines of "comply or explain". It allows somebody to explain why they are not going to apply those principles in their particular circumstances. Is there a similar procedure under your two responsibilities?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : The audit will allow people to explain why they have not complied with our principles.
Chair: But why they are not going to apply those principles?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : By law they have to follow our principles; that is now part of the legislation.
Q42 Chair: So, in that respect it is much less flexible?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : The principles are not flexible. The ways in which you carry them out, the procedures, are as flexible as you wish to make them. But the key principles of open and fair competition on the basis of merit are not flexible.
Chair: Public Appointments Commissioner?
Dame Janet Gaymer : As I have said, I have been trying over the last five years to move towards a more principles-based system. If you look at the Code of Practice upon which we consulted, about 40% of that Code was about process; the rest is about principles and how to walk the talk. The danger is that if you have a long document, you only look at the last page number instead of looking at what is in it. One story I should share with you-in a sense, it is a comment of caution-is that the first Commissioner for Public Appointments, Sir Len Peach, remarked that the process was often described as bureaucratic. Indeed, that allegation of bureaucracy against the public appointment process has persisted over the last 15 years. Sir Len’s response to that-I have to say it has also been my experience-was that when someone says a process is bureaucratic, it usually means it is inconvenient for them. One needs to be quite careful about saying something is bureaucratic without really working out the reason for that statement. I think that any process can be improved and made better, but when you are dealing with 600 applications for a position you must have some sort of process. The issue is what I said at the beginning: it is the balance between the principles, walking the talk, the level and proportionate nature of the process you need and bearing in mind what you are trying to do, which is to get the very best person for the job appointed on merit.
Q43 Robert Halfon: Given the convergence of the two recruitment processes under the dual post-holder, do you think there should be a differing role for Ministers with regard to Civil Service appointments and public body appointments? Should they be brought closer together?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : Absolutely not. It is the one thing we have always agreed on and it is the thing that keeps the role separate. If you are, as is now set in legislation, an impartial Civil Service, what you need to do is employ civil servants in an impartial way, and that means a process whereby, although we consult Ministers en route, it provides for the Secretary of State a recommended candidate who has come through that particular process. That is about impartial employment. What Janet regulates is appointments, which are of course made by Ministers to arm’s length bodies of departments that deliver government policy.
Dame Janet Gaymer : The point about ministerial accountability is a very important one in relation to ministerial choice. At the end of the day, these are ministerial appointments. The bodies are often delivering government policy of the day. The Minister is accountable to Parliament for how those bodies perform, so that is the backdrop to ministerial choice.
Q44 Robert Halfon: If what you oppose did happen and Ministers were given a bigger role in appointment procedures for civil servants, what safeguards would be needed against the dangers of inappropriate political influence?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : What we are saying is that Ministers should not be involved in the process in any way other than that which we have laid down. What happens under the procedure we have laid down, which gives a safeguard for both the Minister and the process itself, is consultation with the Secretary of State right at the start of the process to make sure we know and understand exactly what that particular Secretary of State wants of their permanent secretary or director general. We can build that into the process. We can then go back to the Secretary of State and, if he or she wishes, they may brief the panel if there are major changes, as there were in the Department of Health-in that case the Secretary of State briefed the panel that was going to appoint the permanent secretary so that the panel could understand directly from him what he was looking for in his permanent secretary.
Q45 Robert Halfon: Were there not cases in the past where senior Ministers have demanded particular civil servants?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : Not in my experience, no.
Dame Janet Gaymer : It is fair to say that ministerial involvement was a key issue that faced me when I started my time as Commissioner for Public Appointments. There was concern about Ministers interfering in shortlists for candidates. We conducted a very focused consultation on ministerial involvement. I spoke to Ministers, permanent secretaries and anyone who was relevant to the issue. We came up with a very carefully choreographed set of provisions about the extent to which a Minister was entitled to be involved in a public appointment process. I am delighted to say that it seems to have worked extremely well. I said at the end of the consultation that that ought to be reviewed in the spring of next year. It is one of the messages that I shall be giving to Sir David to remind him that we did say we would look at how ministerial involvement was taken forward.
Q46 Robert Halfon: Just to confirm the point, are you saying there are no cases in your time of which you are aware when senior Ministers have influenced the type of civil servants around them-who they would be-even in the classic British way of dealing with it under the carpet or behind the scenes?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : I am saying that in competitions we get Ministers’ views about the kinds of skills they require their senior officials to have. That is the way we involve Ministers. They do not say they would like x instead of y. When we were in the business of regulating the permanent secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I went to see the Foreign Secretary and said, "These are the characteristics of the four people on the short list. What are the kinds of things that you would need to be satisfied about for each of these candidates so I can make sure that these issues are tested properly during the recruitment process?" He felt as involved as he needed to be, I think, in helping us to find the right person for him. That is our job.
Q47 Robert Halfon: When the last Government came in in 1997 there were a number of changes of senior civil servants at about the same time. Are you saying the Government had nothing to do with it?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : That was before my time. I have no idea of what happened then. I can talk only about what has happened in the last five years.
Q48 Chair: May I press you on one thing? We keep hearing that appointments must be made solely on merit. I can hear Sir Humphrey Appleby assuring Jim Hacker that all the appointments in the department have been made on merit, that all the obstructive and opinionated people blocking his earnest desires had all been appointed on merit. Merit is a very subjective judgment; it is as subjective as any other judgment, is it not?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : We are trying to reduce the subjectivity. When I came to the job, senior appointments were made on the basis of a 45-minute panel interview. I did not think that was sufficient for the appointment of somebody to take on a very senior role; indeed, it could lead to a less rigorous process and decision making in relation to merit. Therefore, we have introduced psychologist testing and reporting; we have introduced split panels, which is much more a private sector model, where each member of the panel, or in twos, also interviews the candidate separately in addition to the final meeting. Where any particular job might have a media role, we have introduced media testing. We have introduced a whole range of different tests to try to minimise the subjectivity of a panel. It is terribly important to recognise that just a conversation can be subjective, but one of our roles as commissioners in chairing the panels is to try to make sure that that subjectivity is absolutely reduced.
Q49 David Heyes: My questions are just for the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Your annual report tells us you believe that the public’s understanding of the public appointments process is still very low and that prevents talented people from applying. First, how do you know that? Second, what can be done about it?
Dame Janet Gaymer : I suppose that one piece of information is a survey done by Ipsos MORI in 2010. It was not done for me but for the GEO. They asked people whether they thought it was easy for people like them to apply and whether they thought the process was fair and open. What was interesting about it was that the percentages had gone down. In 2004, 40% thought it was not easy for people like them to apply; in 2010, 23% thought that. There has been some progress in terms of fairness and openness in relation to the process.
Q50 David Heyes: Were those questions asked of random members of the public or were they what one would expect to be the target audience for public appointments?
Dame Janet Gaymer : I was going to say that that is the general backdrop or view. During the last couple of years, since I have been given power to promote diversity in procedures for public appointments, we have been developing a strategy called Targeting Talent and looked at each of the groups who are not well represented in public appointments to find out why. Two of the barriers that come up over and over again in the research are, first, awareness and understanding of what public appointments are; and, second-I think this is important-the attractiveness of public appointments. I have to observe personally that the attractiveness of service in public life does not seem to be what it was.
David Heyes: Tell me about it.
Dame Janet Gaymer : I am choosing my words carefully. The reduced attractiveness of public service does not help me as a regulator who is trying desperately hard to encourage people to throw their hats in the ring at the beginning of the process to apply for public appointments in the first place. One of the things we have done as part of the work in Targeting Talent is to set up a very small pilot cross-sectoral mentoring scheme, aimed initially at women. We put them through training, told them about public appointments, explained what it was all about and tried to encourage them to apply. I am happy to say that those in the scheme have done so, but our experience has confirmed the thought that there needs to be a lot more education and awareness-raising of the importance of public service, what public bodies do and the public servants on them.
Q51 David Heyes: Is that going to be on the list of recommendations that you will leave for Sir David to continue with?
Dame Janet Gaymer : Absolutely, yes.
Q52 David Heyes: In your opening remarks, I felt you chose your words carefully when you said you had made progress towards understanding the barriers to diversity.
Dame Janet Gaymer : Yes, we have not solved it.
David Heyes: Would you like to say a bit more about that? Clearly, there is strong evidence that progress has been made, but I guess there is still a long way to go.
Dame Janet Gaymer : I think it is one of those topics on which you can never let up; you have constantly to push at every point to try to remind people that you do not want all the same people all the time. You want the broadest group you can get but also the very best people you can get. They may be in the most unlikely places and you have to keep looking for them.
Q53 David Heyes: There used to be a public appointments register; you could take a list off the shelf. Would there be any merit in reintroducing that?
Dame Janet Gaymer : I know that has been done in the past. Technically, it would not fall within my remit because it is more likely to be something that would be run in departments. I know that some departments maintain records of people who phone up and say they might be interested in a public appointment and ask to be informed if there is ever one that might be in their sector. Some departments do that. I would be in favour of anything that increased the talent pool, quite frankly.
Q54 Robert Halfon: I am a new MP, but when you spoke to the previous Public Administration Committee you expressed reservations about the preappointment hearings. Do you still have those reservations?
Dame Janet Gaymer : Yes, bluntly.
Q55 Robert Halfon: Why?
Dame Janet Gaymer : Let me say straight away that I think having preappointment scrutiny is a good thing as a democratic check. I am not against that, but what I was saying then was that even though it was a good thing, there might be unintended consequences in introducing it. One area I was very concerned about-it is the one that I continue to be concerned about the most-is whether it may inadvertently reduce that pool of candidates that I have been talking about. It is okay for people who are used to appearing in front of Select Committees; they have done it in their past lives and so on, but if you are trying to attract people from the private sector who may have had completely different livelihoods and are not used to appearing before Select Committees it introduces a very public step in the overall process that may put them off. That still worries me, to be frank.
Q56 Robert Halfon: In the United States there are many more appointment hearings than we have, and they are much more powerful. All we have are preappointment hearings and we cannot even veto appointments.
Dame Janet Gaymer : Yes, but in the United States they are political appointments; they are different hearings; and it is a different system. One has to look at what we have here and whether it will work. I was also worried about the potential for perceived politicisation of appointments. Having watched some of the hearings over the last few months since their introduction, I think there have been examples, which, through the eyes of the general public, would not be seen to have been totally apolitical. That is unfortunate.
Q57 Robert Halfon: But should it not be right that the elected legislature has some say over appointments to the Civil Service and that there should be genuine parliamentary oversight; otherwise, what are we here for?
Dame Janet Paraskeva : I think that in terms of the Civil Service it would be highly inappropriate to have pre-appointment scrutiny. Senior civil servants are appointed on merit through a process which does its best to guarantee that; and they are impartial appointments. I think that to introduce any kind of parliamentary scrutiny after that would be rather peculiar constitutionally, to say the least.
Robert Halfon: We will have to agree to disagree on that one.
Q58 Chair: Is there a better way of doing this? I can see that from your point of view it would be personally extremely irritating for a Select Committee to come in after everything is virtually fait accompli and gainsay the processes that have been undertaken, but also it would be too late. Should there not be more involvement of Select Committees in how public appointments are made and what the scope of the job description is going to be, given that there is a question mark particularly over non-departmental public bodies and their accountability?
Dame Janet Gaymer : One of the interesting things about the discussions on preappointment scrutiny before its introduction was trying to answer the question: what is the purpose of the hearing? What is the purpose of the pre-appointment scrutiny hearing? I had a very interesting exchange of views on this with the previous Chairman, Tony Wright. The overall conclusion was that the hearing was not part of the selection process.
Dame Janet Gaymer : The hearing was the beginning of the road of accountability. As a regulator of the selection process, I am comfortable with that because there is a clear dividing line between the selection process and this next stage. I think it very, very important that that distinction is maintained, because as soon as you start washing over into the selection process, you get into all sorts of area of territory that would be very difficult from a practical point of view.
Q59 Chair: Take for example the head of the Environment Agency who turned out to be a former Labour Cabinet Minister. I am sure he would have got through the pre-appointment hearing in a Labour-dominated Committee and he may well have been the appropriate person, but in order to avoid putting a Select Committee in that position would it not be more appropriate for the Select Committee to be involved in scoping the job description jointly in consultation with the Secretary of State so that the Committee had faith in the process and had been involved in it, which of course will be fair because you regulate it, rather than just being presented with a fait accompli?
Dame Janet Gaymer : Currently, in the preappointment scrutiny the Select Committee has the ability to question the process. I think it was in the original specs, if I can put it that way, that they will look at the process; indeed, it has happened in some of the hearings. The second point is that in terms of the appointment of politically active people to public appointment posts, there is no prohibition against such people applying for them. If there were we would not have this problem, but there is not. Therefore, it is possible for a politically active person to be appointed to a public appointment; and of course the whole point of regulating the process is to make sure that when that person is chosen the fact that they are politically active does not enter into the decision making.
Q60 Chair: We’re just beginning to look at the process of appointment of a new Parliamentary Ombudsman, and are there particular jobs like that, where the Select Committee or Parliament should be much more involved than has historically been the case? The appointment is actually made by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister, which, for a Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration seems to be a slightly Executive-heavy system of appointment.
Dame Janet Gaymer: I think the issue-it’s a very simple one, in a way-is: are you involved in the selection process itself or are you going to offer advice on things that you think the selection process ought to take into account? I think that’s the distinction, and what I’m saying is I think one needs to be very, very clear about who is running the selection process and who is involved in it. That’s all I’m saying.
Chair: I’m rapidly losing members of our committee, but I think, if we still have three, we still have a quorum. Correct.
Q61 Robert Halfon: Just a quick question about Civil Service Live. Do you think that this is good value for money?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: I don’t actually know how much it costs. What I know, from participation there, is the immense boost to morale, particularly this year, with everything that is facing the Civil Service, that that event has given thousands of civil servants. They are not just the Whitehall people, in fact, it isn’t about Whitehall; it’s actually about some of the front-line civil servants who work up in the north-east, the north-west, south-west Wales, Scotland. That event brings them together and the feel of the place made me realise how important that investment is, particularly as all of us are trying to save money. I do know that significant sponsorship is actually raised to make the thing happen.
Q62 Robert Halfon: And it’s millions of pounds in lost man-hour time.
Dame Janet Paraskeva: Well, it depends whether you call them lost, and I think what I’m saying is what I felt was that this was a day’s worth of morale-building and a reminder of what the Civil Service is about, and the attendance at the various workshops was very, very high. The session that we ran ourselves on the Civil Service values, with a question time, raised significant numbers of questions from civil servants who really wanted to know what to do and how to raise issues of concern to them. I’m actually a bit of a sceptic of major jollies, but I have to say I had to eat my words when I went to Civil Service Live each year, but most particularly this year. It’s tricky times facing the Civil Service; many people knew that some of them were going to lose their jobs, the public sector is often hammered in the newspapers, and it was a very, very important event, and I don’t think, therefore, it was a waste of a day’s time for any civil servant to come. I think it was actually an investment in their future.
Q63 Robert Halfon: But it’s not just a day, because a lot of them were there for a few days.
Dame Janet Paraskeva: It goes on for three days, but it goes on for three days so that lots of people can be involved on a one-day basis.
Q64 Robert Halfon: But given the difficult times that we live in, do you think it’s value for money that millions of pounds in lost man-hours are spent on this conference and many other conferences that the Civil Service hold?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: I think every department needs to look-and every one of us needs to look-at the way in which we invest in staff development. If Civil Service Live can continue to offer a day’s worth of staff development for individual civil servants, particularly for those who feel really at the edges of the service, then actually that is a worthwhile investment. It’s not a waste of resource; it’s actually an investment in their loyalty, in their staff development, in their feeling of being part of the best Civil Service in the world.
Q65 Robert Halfon: A very final question-I’m very sorry, I have to go, because I’ve got a question in the Chamber. Francis Maude talked in Civil Service Live about the Big Society. Can you just tell me what effect that will have on the Civil Service?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: What effect the Big Society will have on the Civil Service?
Robert Halfon: The Big Society will have, yes.
Dame Janet Paraskeva: You’re asking me to gaze into a crystal ball, I’m sorry.
Q66 Chair: Do come back when you’ve done your question, if you want to, Robert. Can I just ask: the last set of questions is very much about the Civil Service Commission, and forgive us, Public Appointments Commissioner, but do chip in with your advice, if you have it. What did you mean, Civil Service Commissioner, when you said the constitutional position of the Civil Service and its values need and deserve statutory protection? Do you feel that the constitutional position of the Civil Service is strengthened, and what is its constitutional position?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: What I meant was that no longer can the impartiality of the Civil Service be changed by the stroke of a pen at the Privy Council. If any of you wanted to change the way in which the Civil Service is governed or managed, then that would have to be now the subject of full Parliamentary debate, and I think that’s right and proper. You might remember that there was a time when two or three special advisers were given executive powers over civil servants. That was possible through a decision of the Privy Council. That effectively could have been the beginning of the politicisation of political advisers having powers over civil servants. That can no longer happen through a Privy Council decision. Any decision of that kind now would require a full constitutional debate in the House, and that is where we think it should be, and that’s what I meant by the safeguard.
Q67 Chair: That’s helpful. Thank you very much. To press you a little further on the post-bureaucratic age-and I appreciate this may be an alien concept to you; it’s a buzzword phrase describing how the Civil Service should adapt, in the same way as businesses adapted, with far fewer layers, far greater delegation of authority, far more autonomy at local level-do you think this is going to affect the way that appointments are made in the Civil Service?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: I don’t think the fact that you change the management structure to be more efficient, with fewer layers and so on, affects the way in which you appoint. I think what’s important is that we absolutely maintain the principle of fair and open competition and appointment on merit.
Q68 Chair: But isn’t the Civil Service going to be looking for a different type of person?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: One of the things I mentioned earlier on was our protocol, with the presumption of open competition, and I think one of the things that, indeed, a report led by David Normington a little while ago, and something we agreed with, is that competition-bringing in people from outside into the Civil Service-should be encouraged at the middle ranks as well as at the most senior ranks. We do need the best people we can get into the Civil Service and, as I said earlier, where we have professional skills that we haven’t managed, as it were, to breed within the Civil Service, we need to bring those people in: finance directors, IT people, people with commercial skills, procurement skills.
Q69 Chair: So, if Government wants flatter management structures, much less hierarchy, much more local initiative-and when I say local, I mean down the food chain, much less deferential command and control-you think the appointments process can adapt to that?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: I think so. I think what you’re talking about is the sets of skills and, therefore, the way in which a skill specification is actually written, so that we get into the jobs the people who can actually manage in the new way.
Q70 Nick de Bois: I’d just like to draw, if I may, on the fact that we’ve now got pay and recruitment freezes, the public sector’s facing a real challenge, changes particularly to redundancy and pensions, all of this. Now, this has been summarised by the Cabinet Secretary as "a modern employee offer", which is an interesting perspective on it. It perhaps aligns itself more with the private sector, but are you worried about the impact on morale and on recruitment as a result of this?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: I think the morale of any organisation-and the Civil Service is not unlike another organisation-facing the kind of downsizing that is going on will be affected, and of course it’s a worry when the morale of civil servants is called into question. It is a modern employee offer, it is becoming more like the private sector, but that is none the less a very significant change for people, and that kind of change, I think, needs to be very carefully handled, so that we don’t lose our best people.
Q71 Nick de Bois: And have you got a view-it’s not directly related, perhaps-of whether it is impacting now, and have you a view of what the morale is like within the Civil Service at the moment?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: We know from the staff survey that it is less good than it has been, and that has got to be a worry, but I do know that it’s something that the permanent secretaries are very aware of, and it is why we also need to make sure that we don’t cut costs from the kinds of things that will help that issue. It is no good having a Civil Service with low morale; you do have to invest in the staff development of the people that you keep, which was why I was so keen, when Mr Halfon was asking about Civil Service Live, just to emphasise there are things that you can do to keep morale up, and ways that you can handle that so you don’t either lose your best people or lose the will and enthusiasm with which most civil servants do their jobs.
Q72 Nick de Bois: And are there reports of a noticeable decline in interest to join the Civil Service?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: Indeed, there are fewer jobs available, and it is becoming much more difficult to attract people from outside. Some of that has to do, I think, as well with the cap on salary, and if one is going to look in the commercial sector, it is more difficult to say to people, "This is a fantastic job. Come and serve your country, but actually we not only won’t pay you a significant proportion of the earnings that you are used to, but it’ll also be on the front pages of the newspapers", and I think it is quite hard for people.
Q73 Nick de Bois: Conceivably, the market’s bigger, because there’ll be, sadly, more people out there possibly looking for a change of direction.
Dame Janet Paraskeva: In some areas, it is, and certainly in terms of middle-ranking, finance people and IT people, there has actually been a bulge in the numbers who are looking to come in.
Q74 Nick de Bois: And if I could just press you on one more point: the younger level of application-postgraduate application-is where I suspect you may see the biggest problem in recruitment. Am I right to think that?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: It hasn’t happened yet. I think we’re still the second or third most popular job for graduates. It hasn’t happened yet, and I hope it doesn’t happen. I think our younger people will be coming into a Civil Service that has had to adapt financially and managerially to different ways of working, and I’m sure that the service will still want those who always did join to come and deliver public service in that way.
Q75 Chair: Turning to all those permanent secretary appointments that have been made since May 2010, described by one commentator as "the Whitehall revolution that never was", you were responding earlier to a question about the big change in permanent secretaries that took place in 1997. Is this a pattern we should get used to: that, now we have five-year fixed-term Parliaments, every five years there will be a big Whitehall reshuffle at the same time as a new Government?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: I don’t think so. I think what we may have seen is the last cohort of an age of permanent secretaries just coming to the end of their contracts, or the contract they had planned for themselves at 60. And what I mean by that is most of the permanent secretary posts that we have been involved in in the last six to nine months have been of permanent secretaries who had planned to retire at 60. Instead of retiring just before the election, because they are good civil servants and loyal, they wanted to see in whichever new government it was, and stayed until after the election. We might have had a smoother run at it had some gone before the election, but actually they were loyal, they stayed through the election, and then, of course, we had a bunching, but it was because people had planned to retire at 60. It had nothing to do with the fact that there was a change of Government. The reason I say that I think we may have come to the end of it is that the age range of permanent secretaries is now really rather different, and I think that is because we recruit from outside. Appointments are clearly now on merit rather than time served.
Q76 Chair: So, they’re not all now pushing 60.
Dame Janet Paraskeva: No, no, absolutely not; the exact opposite.
Q77 Chair: But there are no plans to end compulsory retirement of civil servants at 60, like we are for the rest of the country.
Dame Janet Paraskeva: No, it was, as I say, a cadre of people who were approaching 60, had always planned to go then, and some stayed on a few extra months to see through the transition of a new Government, and it was coincidental with a change of Government.
Q78 Chair: But Sue Cameron seemed to be celebrating the fact that whatever had been heralded as a big paradigm shift in the management of Whitehall has, in fact, turned out to be more of the same: continuity. That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: I think what we have is a balance of continuity and some difference. As I said, the ratio of women in the permanent secretary team is now one to three; it used to be one to 10. There are now three non-white faces around the permanent secretary team; that didn’t use to be the case. The range of backgrounds of some of the permanent secretaries is very different. There are people who have come in from the private sector two or three jobs down, who now fill that Wednesday morning meeting. That is a very different team of permanent secretaries than used to be the case.
Q79 Chair: And so they’re all recruited in open competition.
Dame Janet Paraskeva: They weren’t all recruited in open competition; some were in Whitehall competitions, and the decision there will usually be taken by the Cabinet Secretary and the Secretary of State.
Q80 Chair: How did you decide those particular cases and are you happy?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: The Senior Leadership Committee takes the decision on the advice of the Secretary of State and the Cabinet Secretary, and they take that decision based on whether or not the particular Secretary of State believes he or she needs Whitehall skills or commercial skills as the predominant feature of the role that they want fulfilled and, understandably, many new Secretaries of State actually looked for experience. When I went to see them at the beginning of the process and asked them, "What are you looking for?", almost all of them-not all of them but almost all of them-said, "I don’t know my way around Whitehall. I need somebody who has Whitehall experience to advise me, to work with me most closely", and in those cases it was a Whitehall-wide competition. Where a Secretary of State said, "Actually, I want us to look much more broadly, because this is a role I think that might attract people from the private sector", then the Senior Leadership Committee would take the decision to go open.
Q81 Chair: Were there any posts where there was a shortage of applicants?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: Not that were notable. There were two managed moves, and managed moves are where the Cabinet Secretary himself believes that, for the department concerned, a particular set of expertise is required. What he has to do then is to demonstrate to me in writing the role that he wishes to fill and the sets of skills and attributes of the particular permanent secretary that he wishes to move into that post, so that there is a proper process, even for a managed move.
Q82 Chair: So, even somebody simply being moved into a post, that has to be-
Dame Janet Paraskeva: It has to, I’m afraid, come across my desk.
Q83 Chair: And can you give me an example of that?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: There were two managed moves: one was of Robert Devereux into the Department for Work and Pensions; and one was of Ursula Brennan into the Ministry of Defence.
Q84 Chair: So, is it unfair to say there was only an application of one for each of those posts?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: That would be an entirely wrong interpretation.
Q85 Chair: Right. Well, I’m glad you’ve put that on the record; thank you for that, because I may have erroneously myself said the reverse.
Dame Janet Paraskeva: It would be entirely wrong. In both cases, it was because the Cabinet Secretary believed that the people concerned had the appropriate skills for those departments at this time, and were the best people for the job, and that kind of managed move-
Q86 Chair: And you don’t second-guess that. You don’t say, "No, come on, this department’s in a mess. It needs a completely fresh"-
Dame Janet Paraskeva: I often challenge the Cabinet Secretary about things, not because I necessarily think he’s got it wrong, but because I think a bit of challenge is useful in any process, and because, actually, if I am to sign off even a managed move, I need to make sure that the Cabinet Secretary-
Q87 Chair: And you wouldn’t accept that this was what Sue Cameron called a very conservative-with a small ‘c’-reshuffle.
Dame Janet Paraskeva: I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t accept Sue Cameron’s description in that sense, no.
Chair: Some might regard that as a great victory, but never mind.
Q88 David Heyes: Have you challenged the Cabinet Secretary on what’s been done in terms of fixed-term contracts and the large number of people who’ve been recruited as civil servants, many of them with party political backgrounds-Tory or Lib Dem backgrounds?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: Indeed.
David Heyes: At the last count, I think it was about 80-odd; it could be up to 100 now. Are you comfortable with that? Surely, that just drives a coach and horses through all the good work you’ve done in the last few years: the Code of Practice, the Code principles. It just seems to fly in the face of all that.
Dame Janet Paraskeva: It would if they hadn’t been following the procedures. As you know, there is an exceptions clause to our recruitment principles, and that exceptions clause allows the Civil Service to identify posts that it believes are necessary to deliver the appropriate service to the Government of the day. What has happened in the cases I think that you’re referring to is that that exception principle has been used. It can only be used for short-term appointments; it cannot be used for longer appointments at all and, indeed, it is not uncommon for a department, when a Government changes, to recognise that what that new Government needs is a smooth transition. If you think about it, we don’t have formal transitional arrangements in this country when a Government changes, so a Civil Service might recognise that the best help they can give new Ministers coming in is, in fact, to appoint people who can actually come with them for a very short period of time to help that transition, and that’s what happens. It’s delegated to departments because they are relatively junior posts.
It really isn’t an uncommon feature but, yes, I did raise it with the Cabinet Secretary, because it had hit the newspapers, and anything that hits the newspapers or is brought to our attention in any way, I believe we should raise and question. I raised it with him formally at one of my regular meetings, and I asked him to assure me that the procedures that he needs to follow had been followed. He assured me on that day that the proper business cases had been made to the appropriate committee for each of these posts. I asked him to assure me in writing; he has assured me in writing and, indeed, we have published that assurance on our website.
Q89 David Heyes: How short is short-term?
Dame Janet Paraskeva: It’s up to two years, but, in fact, all of these posts, I think, are under one year.
Q90 David Heyes: You said earlier that politicisation can no longer happen. The Cabinet Secretary would give you the assurances that you sought. What form did those assurances take, and how do you balance that against your aim, which was that politicisation should no longer happen in the Civil Service? This is rank politicisation.
Dame Janet Paraskeva: The Cabinet Secretary himself is bound by the Civil Service code, and he is bound to follow our principles. What I asked him for were assurances that he had followed the principles and, as I say, he gave me those assurances on the day I asked him, and I asked him formally and he has written to me to explain exactly what he did.
Q91 Chair: Well, Public Appointments Commissioner and Civil Service Commissioner, if I may call you that-the two Dame Janets-you are a formidable pair and you have both given great public service in your terms of office. May I thank you, not just for illuminating us today-it’s been very educative-but can I put on record the thanks of this Committee for the work you have done in your public offices, and may I also pass on the thanks of Parliament for the role that you have played, which undoubtedly improves the accountability of appointments in the public sector? Thank you very much indeed.
Dame Janet Paraskeva: Thank you very much.
Dame Janet Gaymer: Thank you.
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 10th January 2011|