A Brief History
The 19th Century reform movement criticised the then current system of patronage, purchase and favour, under which either the Minister of the department or the Patronage Secretary of the Treasury nominated candidates for appointment to posts in the Civil Service. In 1854 the Northcote-Trevelyan Report on the organisation of the permanent Civil Service identified patronage as one of the main reasons for the Service's endemic inefficiency and public disrepute. It recommended open competitive examination to test merit. In the following year the first Civil Service Commissioners were appointed to run the examinations and to give approval for the appointment of those duly qualified.
The Commissioners quickly set up an office - the Civil Service Commission - and recruited the necessary staff. The years 1870 to 1920 saw the steady extension of the Commissioners' powers to cover virtually all appointments. Until the 1939-45 War, selection was mainly by specially prepared written examinations. Thereafter methods such as interview of those possessing appropriate academic qualifications, psychometric testing, and assessment centres were introduced to supplement or replace the traditional examination.
The Civil Service Commission retained its independent existence as a government department until 1968 when, on the recommendation of the Fulton Committee Report on the Civil Service, it was merged with the personnel management divisions of the Treasury to form the Civil Service Department.
In 1982 the Civil Service Order in Council was changed so as to divide responsibility for selection between the Civil Service Commissioners on one hand and Ministers on the other. The Commissioners retained responsibility for the selection of middle and senior level staff - about 15% of the Civil Service. On behalf of their Ministers, departments assumed full responsibility for selection at junior levels, constituting the majority of recruitment, subject to central regulation by the Minister for the Civil Service in support of the policy of selection on merit on the basis of fair and open competition.
In 1991 two new Orders in Council were made (one for the Home Civil Service and one for the Diplomatic Service with parallel provisions as appropriate). These extended departments' and agencies' area of responsibility to over 95% of recruitment to the Service, subject to observance of the Minister's rules on selection made on the advice of the Commissioners. At the same time the Civil Service Commission was replaced by two discrete organisations:
- an Office of the Civil Service Commissioners to support the Commissioners, which for resource purposes now forms part of the Cabinet Office; and
- Recruitment and Assessment Services (RAS), an Agency independent of the Commissioners set up under the Next Steps initiative to provide recruitment, consultancy and related services to departments and agencies and other public sector bodies on a full repayment basis. RAS became a private sector organisation under Capita Group plc on 1 October 1996.
In 1995 the two 1991 Orders in Council were changed so as to return to the Commissioners alone the responsibility for interpreting the principle of selection on merit on the basis of fair and open competition for all Civil Service recruitment, including the circumstances in which exceptions can be made within the parameters of the Order. The Commissioners retained direct responsibility for approving appointments of recruits to the most senior posts only, but provision was made for them to audit the recruitment systems of departments and agencies for compliance with their Recruitment Code.
From 1996 the Commissioners were given a new further role to hear and determine appeals in cases of concerns about propriety and conscience raised by civil servants under the Civil Service Code which cannot be resolved through internal procedures and to report on such appeals made to them.