Belfast Telegraph

First Ministers to have final say on Civil Service chief

By Noel McAdam

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness (below) will have to personally endorse the next head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, it has emerged.

Approval by the First and Deputy First Ministers was confirmed as necessary following a challenge from a watchdog to the decision to internally appoint a successor to current chief Sir Bruce Robinson.

The Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland will meet Sir Bruce later this week over the decision to limit any appointment to the £140,000-a-year post to someone from inside the organisation.

In the past, Civil Service chiefs, including Sir Nigel Hamilton and Sir Bruce himself, have been appointed after open competition.

It was also confirmed this is the first time the commissioners have expressed concerns about the proposed process to select the Civil Service chief.

The commissioners conceded the shift towards an internal process - in line with what happens in the rest of the United Kingdom - is a matter for the NICS itself.

Chairperson Brenda McLaughlin said: "While the decision to hold an internal competition is a matter for the NICS, our view is that the merit principle is best served through fair and open competition."

The commissioners said Sir Bruce wrote to them on July 29 to inform them of the process he was initiating to appoint his successor and they were concerned that the "merit principle" be upheld in spirit and in practice.

The commission said that where possible and appropriate, a diverse range of potential candidates from within and beyond the NICS should have the opportunity to apply for senior appointments.

Asked if it hoped Sir Bruce will reconsider, a commission spokesman would only say: "Commissioners will be meeting with Sir Bruce later this week to discuss their concern about the process to appoint his successor."

Adding her voice to the concern, Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane said: "It is vital there is total clarity and transparency on this issue because the public must have total confidence in the appointment process."

A spokesperson for OFMDFM said: "The appointment process for the new head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service is under way and it is expected to be completed in early autumn.

"It is an internal competition.

"Such appointments in London and Dublin are also internal."

Background

The role of Civil Service commissioners like Sir Bruce Robinson (right) extends only to new appointments under open competition rules. Many positions are filled by internal transfer. But under the Civil Service Commissioners (NI) Order 1999, the commissioners have a statutory duty to ensure appointments are made on the basis of fair and open competition.

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