Whitehall paying over the odds for outsiders

An interesting piece by Sue Cameron in today's Financial Times reveals how outsiders recruited into the top ranks of the civil service are being paid up to £100,000 more than the advertised top rate for the job, and that £6 million a year is being spent on commercial headhunters whose job is to seek out candidates in the private sector, or other parts of the public sector, for Whitehall jobs.

As Ms Cameron writes:

"Before you start tut-tutting about market forces, going rates, monkeys, mandarins and peanuts, there are a few things to bear in mind. First, Whitehall appears to be making no attempt to check whether these inflated salaries give value for money to the poor taxpayer. All too often the evidence is the other way. Whitehall’s highest paid outsiders are often in specialist areas such as information technology. Yet when it comes to IT disasters, Whitehall could win prizes....

So what can the permanent secretaries – the top officials in each department – do to end this pay fiasco? For a start they must stop paying internal candidates less than the advertised minimum for the job – a guaranteed recipe for resentment and, very probably, for legal action. Second, they must see what they can do to slash the bill for headhunters – the £6m figure is just for the very top jobs and the total figure will be higher. Of course it will sometimes be necessary to employ commercial search companies but surely Whitehall could set up an internal headhunting unit of its own at a fraction of the cost. Above all the civil service must do a value-for-money audit. No one wants to discourage greater interchange between the public and private sectors but nobody in Whitehall should be paid over the odds unless the taxpayer can be sure there is no other way of getting a job done properly."

Is it possible that taxpayers are getting the worst of both worlds - sub-standard services and inflated costs? Most certainly. Ms Cameron's analysis is unfortunately absolutely right!

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