‘Super-talented weirdos’ must still follow Whitehall HR procedures

Written by Beckie Smith on 10 January 2020 in News

Prime minister’s office states that, despite Dominic Cummings’ lament of ‘the horrors of human resources’, civil service hiring policies remain unchanged

Credit: Ruth Carter/CC BY 2.0

Any “misfits and weirdos” being hired to work as officials in No.10 will be subject to usual civil service hiring rules, Downing Street has confirmed.

Last week Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s top political adviser, published a call for data scientists and software developers, economists, policy experts, project managers, communication experts and junior researchers to work as special advisers "and perhaps some as officials".

He also called for “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to apply to come and help solve tough policy and political problems.

The blog invited applicants to send a cover letter and CV to a private email address. Civil servants HR rules mean applications are usually made via a tightly regulated system with oversight from the Civil Service Commission. They are then assessed according to strict criteria, including the success profiles system rolled out last year, although appointments as special advisers are not regulated.

“I will try to answer as many as possible but last time I publicly asked for job applications in 2015 I was swamped and could not, so I can’t promise an answer,” Cummings wrote.

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In the section of the blog post dedicated to his call for “super-talented weirdos”, Cummings said that “we need to figure out how to use such people better without asking them to conform to the horrors of ‘Human Resources’ (which also obviously need a bonfire)”.

But the prime minister’s official spokesperson has now confirmed Cummings does not have the authority to appoint civil servants, saying the blog aimed to attract “expressions of interest” rather than completed applications.

“Civil servants continue to be appointed in the usual way,” the spokesperson said.

No.10 declined to answer further questions from about how many positions the office was seeking to fill, or whether any roles had been approved by the cabinet secretary or a minister.

A spokesperson for the department also declined to say who would oversee appointments of the kind mentioned in Cummings’s blog post.

Elsewhere in the nearly 3,000-word blog post, Cummings had written: “It’s important when dealing with large organisations to dart around at different levels, not be stuck with formal hierarchies. It will seem chaotic and ‘not proper No 10 process’ to some. But the point of this government is to do things differently and better."

Earlier this week, the Civil Service Commission told PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World it would “consider proposals from ministers or civil service leadership on civil service appointments as necessary in the usual way”.

It said: "The commission’s statutory role is to ensure appointment to the civil service is made on merit, after a fair and open competition. It is governed by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The commission plays no role in the appointment of special advisers.

“The commission will consider proposals from ministers or civil service leadership on civil service appointments as necessary in the usual way.”


About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. She tweets as @Beckie__Smith.

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