An investigation by the Byline Intelligence Team raises questions about how civil servants are being recruited to Government roles

Concerns have been raised as to a widespread use of a Government civil service recruitment loophole that might fuel findings the Government has failed to follow equality laws during hiring. 

Three Government departments have hired just under 200 civil servants through an exemption which means they do not have to go through due recruitment processes, an investigation by the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal. 

Between 2017 and 2021, the Department for Education hired 103 civil servants using the exemption, while the Department for International Trade hired 84. The Home Office has admitted to one hire when asked specifically about a particular role. 

A large number of Freedom of Information requests asking for such hiring under exemption by ministries went unanswered.

The majority of the revealed hirings under Exception One of the Civil Service Commission principles took place during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. In the Department for Education, 37 civil servants were recruited under the exemption in 2020, and 29 in 2021. For International Trade the numbers were 28 and 20 respectively.

According to the Civil Service’s Recruitment Principles, the law requires that selection for appointment to the Civil Service must be made on merit on the basis of fair and open competition. Exceptions are permitted by the Civil Service Commission when it “believes this is justified by the needs of the Civil Service or is necessary to enable the Civil Service to participate in a government employment initiative”.

Exception One covers temporary appointments “where either the urgency of the need or the short duration of the role make a full competition impracticable or disproportionate”. A temporary appointment can last up to two years. 

The Byline Intelligence Team started looking at the use of this exemption after learning that Home Secretary Priti Patel’s private communications secretary Jonathan Isaby was hired under the clause, although he was not a civil servant at the time of his recruitment.

The Freedom of Information request that was submitted on 12 August 2021 asking about the conditions of Mr Isaby’s hire took 225 days to answer. The legal requirement is for FOIs to be answered in 4 weeks. Byline BITE had to ask eight times for an answer. 

Other exceptions that allow for Government departments to circumvent due recruitment processes include for hires who have specialist skills “that are not readily available within the Civil Service for up to two years where a full open competition is judged to be unlikely to secure suitable appointees within the required timescale”.

They also include appointments within the civil service, such as secondments to other departments, re-appointments of former civil servants, and interchange with the Northern Ireland civil service – as well as transfers from other public bodies. 

Isaby, who previously worked at the Politeia think-tank, the Taxpayers Alliance BrexitCentral, ConservativeHome, the Telegraph, and BBC News in the early-2000s was hired as a temporary appointment for two years. He is now one year into the role. 

While there is no evidence of wrongdoing over the hiring practices, the increasing use of the exception fits into a pattern of direct appointments by this Government, not least during the worst days of the pandemic.  

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.


Due Process?

Our investigation follows a string of revelations about concerns over due process in Government appointments and contracts. 

In February, the Department of Health and Social Care was found to have acted unlawfully in its appointment of Dido Harding and businessman Mike Coupe to top jobs during the Coronavirus pandemic. Two judges found that the then health secretary, Matt Hancock, had failed to comply with public sector equality duties in the decisions to appoint Harding as interim chair of the National Institute for Health Protection in August 2020 and Coupe as director of testing for NHS Track and Trace in September 2020.

Questions were also raised about Hancock’s decision to appoint his lover Gina Coladangelo as a non-executive director to his Department when he was Health and Social Care Secretary, signing off her appointment before the application period had ended for four other jobs with the same title. The terms and conditions of Coladangelo’s show she was directly appointed by Hancock – both later resigned. 

Throughout the pandemic, the Government was accused of running a “chumocracy” as it delivered contracts through a VIP lane that was found to be unlawful. A lawsuit brought by the Good Law Project found that the “operation of the High Priority Lane was in breach of the obligation of equal treatment”.

As reported in this paper, the Government awarded 57 COVID-19 related contracts – worth some £944 million – to 15 companies with directors, or people with controlling interests over these companies, who have donated £12 million to the Conservative Party.

The argument was made that due process did not need to be followed in awarding contracts due to the unprecedented healthcare emergency the country faced. 

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office receives a high number of FOI requests each year. We aim to resolve FOIs as quickly as possible, however we acknowledge there can occasionally be delays in some cases. The appointment of the Communications Private Secretary to the Home Secretary was compliant with the criteria set out within the Civil Services Commission Recruitment Principles”.

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