MPs criticise civil service recruiting

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The recruitment of outsiders to the senior civil service – particularly from the private sector – has gone too far, according to a cross-party committee of MPs.

While no cap should be set on the number of outside recruits, the civil service needed to focus more on nurturing its own talent, the public administration select committee said.

Bringing outsiders into government has been a deliberate policy in recent years, in part to fill big skill gaps in finance, procurement, IT and human resources, but also because ministers and some senior civil servants have favoured introducing fresh opinions.

However, the 4,300-strong senior civil service now depended too heavily on costly external recruitment, the MPs said. Outside recruits were paid 20 per cent more than career civil servants in similar posts.

Despite some notable successes, outsiders did not appear to perform better than career civil servants. In some cases they did notably worse, struggling to adapt to the political environment of Whitehall.

In recent years some 30 per cent of recruits to the senior civil service have been outsiders, but that proportion rises to more than half for the top 200 posts. When open competitions are held, most are won by external candidates.

“On the whole,” the committee said, the evidence suggested that outside appointees “do not perform better than career civil servants”. Recruitment costs were typically about £40,000 ($63,843) and many left relatively quickly.

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