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Recruiting civil servants efficiently

The National Audit Office has today reported that the processes used by central government to recruit civil servants do not fully deliver value for money. Departments are working to understand and improve parts of the external recruitment process but more can be done.

In 2007-08, central government recruited more than 40,000 new staff, with 78 per cent for positions at junior grades in a diverse range of areas such as job centres, courts, prisons, airports and tax offices across the UK. The NAO’s analysis of how six organizations recruit identifies three common issues: the costs of staff used in the recruitment process are too high; the length of the recruitment process is too long; and the quality of the recruitment process needs to be improved.

There is no centrally held data on the cost of central government recruitment programmes and organizations do not accurately record the amount of time spent by staff who are not part of the recruitment team; but the NAO has found the internal staff costs of recruiting an individual vary from £556 to £1,921 per position. There is the potential to reduce these costs by up to 68 per cent, which could deliver savings in internal staff costs across government of up to £35 million a year, without compromising the quality of the candidates appointed.

Within central government, it can typically take 16 weeks to recruit a new member of staff. Time could be saved by better anticipating recruitment demands, using resources more effectively and, where possible, standardizing the process.

There is little evidence that central government organizations systematically test the quality or effectiveness of their recruitment process.

Information on turnover of staff or surveys of candidates and managers are not routinely used to identify the successes and failings of the recruitment process.

The report identifies a range of possible ways of improving external recruitment, ranging from better workforce planning and the standardization of advertisements and job descriptions, to tailoring the amount of resource used in recruitment to the type of vacancy and sifting out unsuitable candidates at a much earlier stage in the process.

"External recruitment is a key component of ensuring that the civil service has the right skills and capacity to deliver. Departments often pay too little attention to how they manage the recruitment process. External recruitment currently takes longer and consumes more internal staff time than it should. Our report identifies a number of improvements which all organisations can make which could deliver worthwhile savings across government."

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  1. Central government employs half a million people and spends an average of 55 per cent of running costs on staff. Civil servants work in multiple locations across all regions of the United Kingdom. In the first six months of 2008-09, there were almost 6,000 campaigns to fill almost 13,000 vacancies.
  2. Today’s NAO report focuses on the six largest employers in central government: HM Revenue & Customs, Ministry of Justice, Department for Work and Pensions, Ministry of Defence, HM Prison Service and UK Border Agency. It looks at recruitment of all grades of staff except the Senior Civil Service (i.e. Board level and senior management positions) and Fast Stream graduate recruits. Junior grades are those at Administrative Assistant (AA), Administrative Officer (AO) and Executive Officer (EO).
  3. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  4. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Tim Burr, is the head of the National Audit Office, which employs some 850 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 11/09