Public Administration Select Committee: Press Notices

26 February 2009


The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) today launches an inquiry into outside appointments to senior levels of the civil service. The inquiry will examine the effects of making such appointments on the nature, ethos and performance of the civil service. Set out below are the key issues and questions that those wishing to submit evidence are invited to consider.


In recent years, appointments to senior levels of the civil service have increasingly been made from outside government. Candidates have been directly appointed from the private sector, local government and the wider public sector, or from charities or academic institutions. Recent research suggests that around a fifth of appointments to the Senior Civil Service (SCS) are made from beyond Whitehall.  When it comes to top-level appointments, however, that figure rises significantly-around half of those appointed to the highest levels of government (such as heads of departments) come from outside government.

The reasons often given for making external appointments are that ‘outsiders’ can bring in specific expertise and the ability to see things from a fresh perspective. People coming in to government from outside might, for example, bring with them more innovative ways of working, specialist skills such as finance or human resources expertise, or particular operational skills that could help in delivering public services or policies more effectively.

Several concerns have also been raised about the practice of making external appointments to the civil service, however-particularly when they are made from the private sector. One obvious immediate concern has been the pay differential between outsiders and career civil servants, especially the high salaries that have apparently been offered to attract private sector candidates into government. In the longer term, there is a fear that the shared ethos and underpinning values of the civil service may be undermined by an influx of outsiders that do not share these core civil service values.

Sir David Normington, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, recently conducted a review of Senior Civil Service recruitment and reward for the Cabinet Office.  Among the review’s conclusions was the belief that while the SCS will continue to be drawn from a mix of internal and external candidates, it was not sustainable to rely so heavily on external recruitment at senior levels. Sir David recommended that a workforce strategy be developed for the SCS, part of which would involve external recruitment to be undertaken more selectively.


1. Is the current level of external recruitment to the Senior Civil Service justified? Does it achieve the objectives set out for it (e.g. filling skills shortages in the civil service, ventilation with new ideas and ways of working)?

2. How effective are the existing arrangements for making and overseeing outside appointments to the Senior Civil Service?

3. What steps should be taken to ensure outside recruits, once appointed, are able to operate effectively within government?

4. Should there be ministerial involvement in appointing outsiders? If so, what mechanisms would need to be in place to safeguard against inappropriate political influence in the recruitment process?

5. One issue of significant concern is that of pay differentials between those appointed from outside and existing civil servants. Is the practice of paying higher salaries to some external recruits justified?

6. What evidence is there to demonstrate the difference made by senior outside appointees to the performance of their departments?

7. What are the implications of making external appointments for the culture of the civil service, including effects on the morale of civil servants and on shared values such as the public service ethos?

8. Is there the right mix of external appointees in terms of where they came from? Should there, for instance, be greater or fewer appointments from the private sector?

9. How could the effects of making outside appointments be most effectively monitored?

10. What can be learnt from the experience of the devolved governments or other countries when it comes to making external appointments to the senior ranks of the civil service?

How to respond to this paper

PASC would appreciate receiving responses to any or all of the questions in this paper. Although some of the questions could be answered by a simple yes or no, it would be valuable to have fuller responses in order for us to understand the points being made. Some respondents may wish to concentrate on those issues in which they have a special interest, rather than answering all of the questions. Respondents may also wish to suggest any proposed recommendations for action by the Government or others.

Written responses to this issues and questions paper will usually be treated as evidence to the Committee and may be published as part of a final report. If you object to your response being made public in a volume of evidence, please make this clear when it is submitted.

Responses should be submitted by Monday 20 April by email to  If you do not have access to email, you may send a paper copy of your response to the Clerk of the Public Administration Select Committee, Committee Office, First Floor, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA.

Please note

Each submission should:

• be no more than 3,000 words in length;

• begin with a short summary in bullet point form;

• have numbered paragraphs; and

• be in Word format or a rich text format with as little use of colour or logos as possible.

The Committee will hold oral evidence sessions during the first half of 2009.


Committee Membership: Tony Wright (Chairman) (Lab) (Cannock Chase), Mr David Burrowes (Con) (Enfield, Southgate), Paul Flynn (Lab) (Newport West), David Heyes (Lab) (Ashton under Lyne), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab) (Luton North), Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con) (Bridgewater), Julie Morgan (Lab) (Cardiff North), Mr Gordon Prentice (Lab) (Pendle), Paul Rowen (Lib Dem) (Rochdale), Charles Walker (Con) (Broxbourne), Jenny Willott (Lib Dem) (Cardiff Central)

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