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Institutionalising the revolving door is not the key to a successful civil service

Giving control of senior civil service appointments to politicians and institutionalising short term, insecure employment contracts is tantamount to sleepwalking into the politicisation of the Civil Service the FDA warned yesterday.

FDA General Secretary, Dave Penman said in response to today’s report:

“Institutionalising insecurity is not the way to a responsive, responsible civil service. Retaining a system of appointing on merit is fundamental to the maintenance of a politically impartial civil service. Ministers have opportunities within the current system to influence the appointment of senior civil servants but handing over the control of the appointments process to politicians as recommended by the IPPR could compromise that impartiality.

The report, ‘Accountability and Responsiveness in the Senior Civil Service: Lessons from Overseas’ correctly highlights the efforts senior civil servants are putting into the modernisation of the civil service. However, there is insufficient recognition of the existing opportunities that Ministers have to influence senior appointments. In addition, the think tank’s assertion that appointing permanent secretaries on fixed term contracts will aid accountability is fundamentally mistaken.

The danger of politicisation posed by increased political involvement in appointments would be exacerbated by the proposal that senior civil servants should be appointed on four year fixed term contracts with the ultimate decision on whether the contract should be renewed resting with the Prime Minister who has a fixed five year Parliamentary cycle. Apart from the danger of potentially compromising the responsibility of civil servants to “speak truth unto power” and to provide objective and impartial advice, the suggestion that ‘Temporary Secretaries’ would be better placed to deliver detailed root and branch reforms or introduce complex cross departmental projects lacks evidence and common sense.

The greatest asset public services have are those dedicated to delivering them, this is not served by instilling insecurity in senior civil servants who would inevitably have at least one eye on their next employer from the moment they start.”

Notes for editors

1. The FDA is the trade union and professional body representing 19,000 of the UK’s senior civil
and public servants. Our members include policy advisors, senior managers, tax inspectors, economists, statisticians, accountants, special advisers, government lawyers, diplomats, crown prosecutors and NHS managers.

2. Members in HMRC are represented by the Association of Revenue and Customs (ARC), a section of the FDA.

3. The FDA (formerly the First Division Association) should be referred to simply as "The FDA" and can be described as "the senior public servants’ union".

Allowing ministers a greater say in appointing civil servants will not help to strengthen accountability, Dave Penman, Civil Service World, 12 June

FDA published an alternative White Paper on Civil Service Reform April 2013

6. For further information contact:
• Dave Penman, FDA General Secretary 07967 503827
• FDA Communications Dept, 0207 401 5588

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