PM should not have civil service appointment powers, say MPs

28 Feb 14
The prime minister should not be given powers to appoint top Whitehall mandarins, the Commons public administration select committee said today.

Currently, the prime minister can only veto a permanent secretary appointment, but under Civil Service Commission proposals, he or she would have the power to choose between two candidates judged to be equally well qualified for the role.

The PASC warned that such a move risked undermining the impartiality of civil service appointments.

Chair Bernard Jenkin said impartial recruitment was a ‘fundamental pillar’ of the system of government in the UK.

‘We know that there are voices now arguing for much more political control over civil service appointments. There needs to be a proper debate about this,’ Jenkin said.

‘While [First Civil Service Commissioner] Sir David Normington insisted in his evidence to use that a “close call between two candidates… does not happen very often”, the danger is that this proposals would encourage an expectation that the government of the day is entitled to choose its permanent secretaries.’

The PASC instead favours an alternative proposal put forward by the commission, which would formalise the recruitment panel’s powers to seek and take into account relevant ministerial views during the appointment process.

Jenkin reiterated the committee’s call for a Parliamentary Commission on the future of the civil service. This needed to be established as a ‘matter of urgency’, he said.


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