Civil Service pay failing to attract top digital and commercial talent

The Civil Service must do more to fill key appointments and improve the diversity of its recruits, the annual report from the Civil Service Commission has found.

The commission’s independent report into Civil Service recruitment in 2015-16 shows that around 28,000 staff were recruited into the Civil Service in 2015-16, compared to 39,000 in 2014-15.

In contrast, the number of appointments made to the most senior roles, at Senior Civil Service pay-band 2 (PB2) and above, increased from 73 to 124.

The report also indicated that the Civil Service is struggling to fill increasing numbers of posts due to an increased demand for senior staff with commercial or digital experience.

The commissioners chaired competitions for 158 posts, of which 34 (22%) were not filled because the selection panel did not find a sufficient number of appointable candidates, compared to 8% last year.

Amongst the competitions where appointments were made, 38% only identified one appointable candidate, with no replacement candidates if they turned down the post. This number had increased from 29% last year.

The commission suggested this was due to a need to recruit an increased number of staff with commercial and digital skills.

These skills are in high demand in the employment market and the Civil Service remuneration is at the lower end of what is on offer.

For example, a campaign to recruit commercial directors led to only 12 out of 25 vacancies being filled, despite an unusually flexible remuneration package being agreed.

However, the report did indicate that the Civil Service had been successful in improving recruitment of senior staff from other professional backgrounds, with the percentage of candidates recruited from outside the Civil Service increasing from 54% to 59%.

Women more likely to be interviewed, but other groups still excluded

The report also suggested that women were less likely to apply for senior posts than men, but more likely to be interviewed and just as likely to be selected.

For example, just 21% of applicants for PB2 posts were women, but 19% of female applicants were shortlisted for interview compared to 10% of male applicants, and interviewees of both genders had a 22% chance of being appointed.

This suggested that the challenge in improving gender diversity in the Civil Service is to encourage more women to apply.

However, the picture was less positive in terms of other forms of diversity. Just 12% of applicants to senior posts and 4% of those selected for interview were from ethnic minorities.

For disabled applicants, the picture was even worse, with 3% of applicants having a declared disability and none of them being selected for interview.

The Civil Service has introduced a number of initiatives in recent years to try to improve the diversity of its workforce.

Kathryn Bishop, the interim civil service commissioner, said that meeting the challenges of Civil Service recruitment was particularly important following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

“There are big challenges ahead for the Civil Service,” she said. “Recent events serve to underline the importance of our shared objective with government: the need for able and impartial civil servants to undertake complex, urgent and important work regardless of their own individual views on the issues. 

“The Civil Service Commission, in the regulation of recruitment and in the oversight of and support for the Civil Service code, serves that need.”

Sir Jeremy Heywood, the head of the Civil Service, has urged his staff to support the UK’s exit from the European Union with “calm and commitment.”

Bishop said the commission would discuss meeting these challenges with Ben Gummer, the new minister for the Cabinet Office, and senior civil service management.

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