Her Majesty’s Civil Service is a politically neutral body responsible for public administration and policy implementation on behalf of that government. The work civil servants do directly contribute to running the country and to the lives of 64 million British citizens.
- Supportive management
- Good training programme
- Relatively low pay
- Bureaucratic and political
- Too departmentalised and regionalised
Her Majesty’s Civil Service – so called because civil servants in the UK are direct employees of the Crown rather than employees of Parliament – is a politically neutral body, supporting whichever government is in power. Civil servants are mainly responsible for public administration and policy implementation on behalf of that government. The work civil servants do directly contribute to running the country and to the lives of 64 million British citizens, but don’t get too excited: there is a reason the work is often tagged as ‘pen pushing’.
Traditionally the hub of the Civil Service has been at Whitehall by the Thames. However, the Service now has outposts in some of the further reaches of Britain, with nearly three quarters working outside London and the South East.
Among the more well-known, and dare we say more important offices, are the Home Office, the Cabinet Office, the Treasury and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The Home Office oversees law and order in the UK, taking responsibility for issues from terrorism to immigration to civil emergencies. The Cabinet Office ensures coherence and delivery of policy across government departments (it was the Cabinet Office who arranged the coalition talks following the 2010 election). Meanwhile the Treasury is the government’s wallet and is responsible for formulating UK economic policy.
The FCO is responsible for the UK’s engagement in international policy. Its staff includes not just civil servants but diplomatic services; and while two thirds of its headcount is UK based, many of its employees work in British Embassies and High Commissions. Other departments include the Departments for International Development (whose budget far exceeds the FCO’s), Trade and Industry, Work and Pensions, Health, Education and Business, Industry and Skills.
Knowledge of the various departments is fortunately not a prerequisite for landing a role with the Civil Service. Graduates applying through the Fast Stream will find themselves pre-allocated to a department, so be prepared for a role in transport even if your heart lies at the Home Office. However, with the Civil Service understood as the beating heart of Britain’s public sector, anyone who works for any of the wide variety of departments will benefit from a number of perks – most notably, longer holidays and a good pension.
As of 2007, there are approximately 532,000 civil servants in the Home Civil Service (the Diplomatic Service and Northern Ireland Civil Service are separate entities) and there has been a concerted effort to develop a representative work force in terms of gender, race and disability. Flexible working is encouraged, e.g. the FCO operates a flexi-time schedule as par for the course.
Historically, candidates were appointed to Civil Service posts by departmental ministers. However, the Northcote-Trevelyan report of 1853 pushed the organisation into becoming apolitical. Now civil servants must be examined before joining to make sure they are picked on merit and not on political affiliation. In 1995, the central Civil Service commission was granted the provision to audit the recruitment systems of all departments and agencies, to make sure they are as unbiased and fair as possible.
The most common entry to the Civil Service is through its ‘accelerated development’ Fast Stream programme. However, this isn’t the only way to join, with vacancies – usually for low level jobs – advertised on departmental websites. All applicants for the Fast Stream need a minimum 2:2 in order to join one of the four tracks offered: the graduate track, the economists track, the statisticians track and the technology in business track.
To apply for the Fast Stream you need to register on the Civil Service website, as part of the application includes an online self-assessment. Evaluations include verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning and a competency test, and if you pass these there are three further hurdles to clear – including an assessment day and an interview with a final selection board. To apply for the Economists’ Fast Stream, which would see you enter the Government Economists Service, you need a 2:1 postgraduate degree in economics. The statisticians track looks for those with degrees in numerate disciplines, from maths to economics to geography and the sciences. Lastly, the Technology in Business stream looks for those with exceptional IT skills. To make the cut you’ll need a 2:1 in business, engineering, librarianship, mathematical sciences, physical science, technology or IT management for business.
No. of employees in the UK: 530,000+
Graduate roles: 300-400
Graduate starting salary: £25,000 - £27,000
Salary after promotion (usually four to five years): £39,000 - £51,000
Clerkships in Parliament
DFID Technical Development
Graduate Fast Stream Programmes:
Many other service programmes available to graduat
Science & Engineering
Secret Intelligence Service
Technology in Business