How Foster and McGuinness conspired to make the next Head of the Civil a political appointment…

Here’s an interesting snippet, which tell us a lot about the unusually high degree of patronage available to the First and deputy First Minister. In their haste to leave office and head for the polls, the poor old Head of the Civil Service (a nominally non-political role) is staying on till they get back.

Julian O’Neill writes:

The recruitment process is now in limbo, more than three months after final interviews. Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness interviewed two contenders, but despite a winner emerging no appointment was made before the executive collapsed.

The present head of the NI Civil Service, Sir Malcolm McKibbin, who also acts the executive’s chief policy advisor, has had to delay his retirement until April as a stop-gap.

But it is the political dimension in the recruitment of his successor which has presented problems.

It could need the sign-off of the first minister and deputy first minister – posts which may not be filled quickly after the election on 2 March.

Even if they are, there is a further potential complication in that Michelle O’Neill, having replaced Mr McGuinness, was not part of the interview panel in November.

What London might do if Direct Rule is to return is also uncertain.

So how did this happen? Is it regular? Nope. It seems this breach of protocol was only brought in by the Fresh Start twins in October. Julian again:

The Executive Office defended the central roles given to Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness in the selection process, which were changed before the post was advertised last October.

In no other part of the UK do politicians, by themselves, conduct final stage interviews for top Civil Service positions.

The Executive Office said this is because the post holder has “a very close working relationship with both the first minister and deputy first minister”.

This is just one of several weird variations in good practice that’s made its way into the Stormont administration, like overpaid and overweening SpAds and huge liberties being taken with the secrecy laws that allow for and give protection to foreign donors.

  • Paddy maguire

    It’s usually the spooks that makes the appointment

  • Jeremy Cooke

    Is this a bad idea? Moving towards the system in the US where senior people are appointed after examination by committee surely has something to be said for it ? It just means the actual technical expertise resides one level down.

  • mickfealty

    Up front, through legislative action and I’m with you. But not like this.

  • Msiegnaro

    Faceless committees.

  • Stephen Warke

    We all accept that the FM and dFM have to work with the HoCS, however it is not their place to have a determining say on who gets the job. Surely that should be best left to the Civil Service Commissioners and if needs be, have someone like Sir Bob Kerslake (former Cabinet Secretary to PM Cameron) to chair the panel to ensure everything is done appropriately and in accordance with the merit principle (which effects every other civil service appointment!) and allows fairness and transparency in the process where the best person for the job gets the job.

  • Nevin

    “The Executive Office said this is because the post holder has “a very close working relationship with both the first minister and deputy first minister”.

    This is just one of several weird variations in good practice”

    As I pointed out back in 2012, Departmental Boards are chaired by the Permanent Secretaries and Ministers aren’t present whereas DBs should be chaired by Ministers – in line with Treasury guidance on best practice.

    If one or both candidates were involved in the RHI debacle that would also explain why the current head of the Civil Service has been asked to stay on.

    I can find no minutes of briefing sessions involving Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and whoever else is present; the Independent DB members who are supposed to advise and challenge are most unlikely to be present.

  • carnmoneyguy

    the DUP will look back at pre-Christmas period with nostalgia – if only they had got Arlene to step aside….
    The new Sinn Fein leadership have whipped up their support base, going back to the cosy way it was would be future electoral suicide
    The Sinn Fein voters will expect real change before a full running executive is returned, in the meantime expect appointments to be made direct by Brokenshire

  • mickfealty

    Take back control is it. I’ve heard that somewhere before.

  • Nevin

    cg, whipping up the support base after flip-flopping might encourage the support base to switch to People Before Profit.

  • Neonlights

    It’s just sickening to see how badly the local assembly operates

  • mickfealty

    What new leadership? I hear Ted Howell (the guru’s guru) has been brought back out of retirement. Some disgruntlement surely with how the previous negotiating team handled Fresh Start? Michelle’s a fresh face, but she’s not leadership.

  • Fraser Holmes

    I find it strange that the FM and DFM alone can decide on the head of the NICS. I was under the impression that any selection panel had to be chaired by an appropriate Civil Servant.

    Although Whitehall would have us believe that the the UK Civil service is apolitical and independent of politicians but the reality is different according to ‘The Institute for Government

    “We also found that a significant minority of permanent secretaries are still appointed through ‘managed moves’ where the civil service leadership – often at the request of ministers – move officials horizontally without any formal process or competition. Since 2010, managed moves account for around a third of permanent secretary appointments – including the appointment of the Cabinet Secretary himself.

    No official data is published on how common managed moves are. Nor is there clarity about the rationale for the use of this mechanism. Anecdotally, we were told of cases where managed moves are used to fill an unexpected vacancy, and others where this is a way to quickly exit a permanent secretary who has fallen out with their secretary of state. We recommend greater transparency in this area, with published data on the use of and reasons for managed moves.”

    I am more concerned with the allowed anonymity for party donors and the unaccountable power of SpAds

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    I don’t think you should write Michelle off until she has had a chance to prove herself.

  • carnmoneyguy

    Martin McGuinness had the history and gravitas to say and do things that no-one else would get away with ( bar Adams )
    MON has to therefore be hard line as a natural consequence

  • carnmoneyguy

    SDLP & Sinn Fein getting stuck into PBP in West Belfast & Foyle, voters being advised to transfer to other Pro-EU remain parties. Thats Eamon McCann toast.
    In West Belfast PBP have stupidly chosen to field another candidate, splitting first preferences when the quota will be higher. Gerry Carroll will have a battle to retain seat, with transfers from DUP being the deciding factor
    ( Joe Hendron all over again )

  • Jeremy Cooke

    I don’t see how they’d be faceless if drawn from the legislature? A committee elected from the floor to review proposed senior appointments including Ministers sounds OK to me.

  • burnboilerburn

    MON has done well in her baptism of fire and will be very capable in the Nations second chamber. The blows she landed on Arlene last night were bulls eye. However, she will need to grow into the role as leader of the North so a few months of direct rule will do her no harm at all.

  • burnboilerburn

    You can be sure the way the process was designed was another example of Arlene and the DUP throwing their weight around.

  • Msiegnaro

    Well look at the SDLP member on the RHI committe but didn’t know the specifics.

  • Sliothar

    Normally speaking, I would be dead against any sort of political input in the selection of head of the NICS. The problem, however, lies in the ethos of the upper echelons of the CS itself which is very decidedly unionist in mindset – even from senior personnel who would declare themselves as Catholic. It’s a sort of fixed, corporate policy cemented in place by decades of established practice. And you can bet the farm that the higher up you go within the system, you have been vetted to death to make sure you’re ‘one of ours’.
    So, how does a political party, which is not unionist, try to obtain a ‘reasonably’ level playing field in the hope that advice would not be coming from one corner of the park only? In addition and without prejudice, would it not cause more than an eyebrow to be raised if a senior officer, married to a minister, was appointed to a politically sensitive ministry?

  • johnny lately

    Prove herself where and with who Bonaparte, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and even Alliance have all insisted Brokenshire is not impartial and should not chair any talks, Brokenshire insists he will chair the talks, both Sinn Fein and the DUP have red lines they insist they won’t cross one being for an Irish language act and the other being against. The reality is there will be no going back to Stormont, talks about talks will be dragged out as long as possible until Brexit happens, why should nationalists trust either unionism or the British government to keep its word on any new commitments when they reneged on past commitments or those promises of no hard border in Ireland.

  • johnny lately

    Nevin what excuse has PBP got now to support Brexit, TTIP is dead in the water, are they now or where they always just playing to the unionist gallery in an attempt to mop up any Unionist votes available in nationalist areas where there’s little prospect of a unionist result, like West Belfast.

  • Nevin

    We’ll just have to wait and see, jl; mopping up is practised by many parties to enhance regional percentages.

  • Nevin

    cg, Eamonn was toast in the early 60s when we were QUB students in that brief liberal interlude that followed an earlier insurrection; he still retains some of his bite. Presumably there may be some tactical voting across the span of constituencies.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    So because one committee member wasn’t very impressive we just give up and stop trying to make things work better?

    Maybe the candidates have to give a public presentation as part of the selection process but the current system is producing dross so maybe we should try an alternative.

  • Granni Trixie

    Given the history of this place no, there is not merit in employing or promoting anyone on basis of if they will get on with the boss. why do you think Fair Employment legislation had to be introduced?

  • Barneyt

    I have problems with her delivery… sometimes broken and hesitant. If I were in charge of the republican “fight” against the “empire” I’d seek to somehow out-marble the marbled and silver-spooned if at all possible. No point in giving the British a free hit.

  • Barneyt

    I’d hope someone would filter through via succession and rising through the ranks but how reliable is that? Surely it’s changed over the years. Granted this may still produce someone illfitted in entirety but I can’t see how the NICS head guy can be anything other than a uk state advocate and “one of them” who is wholly or partially answerable to the mother state. It’s kinda business as usual as we are, like it or not still part of the British jurisdiction. SF can do little more than keep an eye on things and just report back?