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FDA warns of ‘cheerleader’ civil servants under Brexit plans

The Civil Service Commission has announced controversial special measures relaxing the Civil Service’s recruitment rules in order to help it tackle the burden of dealing with Brexit, leading to criticism from public service unions.

In new guidance issued by the commission, it confirms that it has agreed with the government to relax the Civil Service’s requirement of appointment on the basis of ‘fair and open competition’ for Brexit-specific appointments, allowing temporary staff to be appointed at a more senior level and for a longer period than at which the waiver is usually offered.

The report has been met with criticism from the senior public servants’ union the FDA who have called the trend a “worrying development”, saying that the decision puts at risk the impartiality of the service.

The general secretary of the FDA, Dave Penman, said: “There has rarely been a time when the requirement of the Civil Service to speak truth unto power has been needed more, yet the Commission is suspending the requirement for open and fair selection, one of the key principles that underpins a politically impartial civil service, for potentially large groups of staff being brought in to work on Brexit.

“Whilst we recognise the need for investment in both the capacity and capability of the Civil Service to deliver Brexit, and that some of this may require staff to be recruited for a fixed period of time, we remain unconvinced that the requirement for open and fair selection is no longer necessary and are deeply concerned about the message this sends to civil servants and the public.”

The commission’s agreement with the government – which will allow the Civil Service to recruit staff for up to three years up to a salary of £142,500 by agreeing a business case with the commission within the 2017 calendar year – expands upon its usual requirement for referring recruitment ‘by exception’, which exists for posts of more than two years or salaries above £87,000.

The FDA’s comments come after the union raised concerns following the resignation of the UK’s EU ambassador Sir Ivan Rogers last month, as Penman added that the commission’s move may see the government parachuting ‘cheerleader’ civil servants into the Civil Service in order to deliver Brexit.

However, a letter by the first Civil Service commissioner Ian Watmore to permanent secretaries informing them of the special arrangements stressed that departments will be regularly asked to confirm that staff appointed under the scheme are still abiding by the Civil Service Code.

“If there is evidence that staff engaged under these special arrangements are not acting as impartial civil servants, the enhanced delegations to the department will be withdrawn, and the employment of the staff in question will have to be terminated,” Watmore said in his letter dated 31 January.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) said that the government’s white paper on Brexit, published last week, has given no indication about the amount of resources the Civil Service will need to cope with the task of leaving the EU, despite the government persisting with cuts that has caused hundreds of thousands of civil servants to lose their jobs.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The woeful response from the Cabinet Office and senior civil service officials either means they have done zero planning or they’re keeping it from their staff.

“The government cannot keep ignoring the fact that Brexit means all its spending cuts plans are now redundant and ministers must talk to the unions about the resources they need.”

It is understood that the PCS wrote to the head of the Civil Service and to departmental permanent secretaries one week after the referendum result last June to request discussions on the resources needed to deliver Brexit and a suspension of all plans for spending cuts until after Brexit had been achieved.

However, the union has said that no department has yet responded adequately to its request, with the HMRC insisting that its plans will not change despite the referendum result.

(Image c. Daniel Leal-Olivas from PA Wire and Press Association Images)

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Alan Caine   06/02/2017 at 12:56

What impartiality, The Civil Service consistently does what it wants, unless caught out. To us mere mortals the Sir Humphrey regime appears not to have changed. Of course senior servants are concerned, Brexit has taken them outside their comfort zone & potential loss of cosy post retirement jobs

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