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Inquiry into the appointment and dismissal of permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants launched by Lords committee

Tuesday 28 February 2023

The House of Lords Constitution Committee is today inviting written contributions to its new inquiry into the appointment and dismissal of permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants.

The inquiry will focus on the degree of ministerial involvement in the recruitment process for these positions and the extent to which ministers, and prime ministers have become involved in the dismissal of post-holders. In particular, the committee will consider whether an informal shift has taken place in the process of appointment and dismissal of permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants and if so, whether this indicates a desire to appoint more politically sympathetic candidates. The committee will consider whether formal processes, such as the Civil Service Recruitment Principles, should be amended to allow for greater ministerial involvement.

Topics the committee is seeking evidence on include:

  • Whether ministers and/or Prime Ministers have departed from the Civil Service Commission Recruitment Principles by becoming more closely involved in dismissing permanent secretaries and other senior civil servant; whether there is a notable trend for permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants to leave their posts when a change of Prime Minister or cabinet reshuffle takes place;
  • Whether the Civil Service Recruitment Principles should be amended to allow for greater ministerial involvement in appointments and dismissals, and the effect this would have on the constitutional position of the Civil Service;
  • Whether the constitutional position of civil servants in the Scottish and Welsh governments, who are members of the UK Civil Service but politically accountable to their respective devolved governments, presents any special challenges in this area;
  • The extent to which other actors––such as special advisers––are involved in the recruitment and dismissal of permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants.

The committee invites interested individuals to submit written evidence by 5pm on 28 March 2023. The full call for evidence and further information is available on the committee’s website.

Baroness Drake, Chair of the Constitution Committee said:

“The Constitutional Reform and Governance (CRAG) Act 2010 stipulates that appointments to the civil service must be “on merit on the basis of fair and open competition.” Recent developments, however, suggest there may be increasing ministerial involvement in recruiting and dismissing permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants. It is a timely moment for the committee to investigate the extent to which this is the case and the constitutional implications of any shift in practice.

“We encourage evidence from anyone with experience or expertise on this issue, with full knowledge that your views have value and are welcome. Hearing a wide range of perspectives means that we will be better informed and can more effectively scrutinise the topic in question. My committee and I look forward to reporting on this inquiry in due course.”

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