Performance
March 5, 2014

Appointment by merit or connections?

Quote of the week

“Appointment processes should be fair, open and transparent.”

— Institute for Government Report

Editor’s Corner

In the U.K., a battle is brewing over how permanent secretaries – in our world, deputy ministers – should be chosen. The government wants to let Cabinet ministers personally appoint them; today in the U.K. permanent secretaries typically move up through the public service ranks and are selected through a competitive process.

The U.K. government says their plan will “improve accountability and speed up major polices and projects.” The Civil Service Commission has weighed in against the idea. It argues that the approach will politicize the public service. It will also, the Commission believes, remove the principle of selection based solely on merit.

The Commission proposed two things. First, that a minister’s views be taken into account by any recruitment panel, and second, that the Prime Minister choose the permanent secretary from two candidates of equal merit.

Even that second idea has raised the ire of Bernard Jenkin, the chair of the Commons Public Administration Committee, who said that “the danger is that this (second) proposal would encourage an expectation that the government of the day is entitled to choose its permanent secretaries.”

A report by the U.K. Institute for Government says that what is partly behind this move is a desire by the administration to have more outsiders in these senior positions. The report reminds readers that since 2010 only 10 of 21 senior competitions to departments and agencies used an outside recruitment process. And nine of them were won by internal (civil service) candidates.

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