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Review of "Civil Service"

published 14/12/2004 | u103177
Member since : 03/10/2004
Reviews : 18
Members who trust : 15
About me :
Pro Good terms & conditions, support for those who undertake study
Cons Poor public perception of civil servants
very helpful

""Yes Minister!""

*****I should qualify the review you are about to read. The civil service is UK wide and has probably dozens if not hundreds of different terms and conditions. People in the same job in England do not necessarily get the same pay as someone in Scotland and vice versa.

My experience has been very positive but I am now becoming increasingly aware that this is not the case all over the country.

This review is most valid for those looking to join the Scottish Executive and you can't assume what I say is right for the entire civil service (apart from "routes of entry" which I believe are the same)*****

Leaving school at 16 wasn’t so much of a decision as an evolution. I had sat my exams and not done very well. I was age 16 with potentially one more year at school but my family moved to another town in Scotland and there was no way I was being the “new boy” again! I got a job on a government Youth Training Scheme as an apprentice electrical engineer. I was paid £29.50 a week (this was in 1990!!). On my first week I was told to paint the floor of the massive warehouse we all worked in…hmm.

This review charts my career to present day in the organisation that I joined one month after the episode above. I will mention some of the characteristics of a career in the civil service (especially the Scottish Executive); some benefits; a few drawbacks and quite a few personal experiences. This is all in the hope that someone who wants to know more about a career in the civil service (especially the Scottish Executive) will get a bit of an insight into the possibilities.

***Routes of Entry into the Civil Service***

At age 16 you have two choices if you want a career in the civil service. You can join at the very bottom of the ladder (Admin Assistant) or one up from that (Admin Officer). I joined as Admin Assistant – as well as not being very good at painting floors I didn’t have much confidence. The qualifications criteria for AA is 2 “O levels” or “Standard Grades” and for AO it is 5. I had 5 but thought I stood a better chance of joining at the lowest grade.

Junior managers can join at Executive Officer (now called B1) level if they have the qualifications above plus 3 “Highers” (equivalent would be 2 “A” levels in England).

Older people, or people without qualifications, can sit an entry exam. Life experience counts for a lot as well, as does common sense, so the personnel department realises qualifications aren’t everything.

With all of the options above the candidates have to come for interview. This involves 2 or 3 people questioning you on your experience elsewhere and competencies that you believe you have. They try to extract evidence where you have demonstrated those competences (such as Team Working, for example).

Graduates have a number of options. The can apply to sit the Civil Service Selection Board (CSSB) in London. This is 2 days of psychometric tests, interviews, group exercises and written tests. They pick the best candidates and ask them which government department they’d like to work in. Most successful candidates join the Westminster departments (Treasury, Foreign Office, etc) but some people do actually choose to come up to the Scottish Executive (where I work) or Welsh Office!

Graduates of statistics or economics can sit a specialist assessment centre and join the service as a Statistician or Economist. The rest join the masses in Administration (or indeed can branch out into specialisms such as Research or IT or HR).

Direct entry is also becoming more and more popular. Certain key jobs will be advertised in the local press and successful (usually senior) people in the private or voluntary sectors will be employed to bring in “new blood”. It will usually be senior local managers that interview and appoint these people although I have known the First Minister (the lead politician in Scotland) to be asked to sanction an appointment.

The rest of the Review becomes particular to my experience in the Scottish Executive:

***Making the Decision to join the Scottish Executive***

What’s in it for you?

Well there are some tangible benefits and a few intangibles.

- 37 hour working week
- Flexi time (come in at any time between 7am and 7pm as long as you are not above 14 hours credit after 4 weeks…or 11 hours debit)
- 25 days annual leave (increasing to 30 days after 10 years service)
- 9 days public holidays
- Time off to visit the dentist or doctor
- 3 free trips home per year if you are under 21 and living away from home
- Day release to local college is you are under 18 and undertake a qualification – all fully paid – including books.
- Fully pay your degree course if you do it in your own time
- Join a relatively strong union (Public & Commercial Services union) that fights for the rights of individuals if they need to
- Cheap gym membership for staff
- “Special” (paid or unpaid) leave available if you need emergency time off to care for a dependent or attend the funeral of a relative
- Best pension package around! Final salary pension and non contributory *NOTE: I have this but I believe new starts have to pay something towards their pensions now and there is talk of the final scheme being scrapped for an average earnings scheme – but the pension is still one of the the moment...*
- Huge array of “in-house” training and development courses available

Intangibles include:

- Possibility to work on some of the most important issues to the people of Scotland
- A culture of change and improvement where peer networks exist to recognise excellence
- The chance to work closely with government Ministers in a huge variety of different topics (over the 14 years I’ve worked in the Scottish Executive I have worked in Economics, Procurement, Sea Fisheries, Statistics, Child Protection, Tourism, Social Work and Childcare)
- A supportive culture rather than a blame culture.
- Relative job security – no matter which political party is in power the civil service is impartial and doesn’t change (directly) with a change in government.
- An active equal opportunities employer with support groups for minorities.


However, there are a few drawbacks to working in the Scottish Executive, the main ones being:

- The public perception of civil servants is negative (gone are the days of “Yes Minister” the popular comedy TV series that poked fun at conniving civil servants and idiotic Ministers)
- The pay lags behind the private sector equivalent jobs
- Ministers make the final decisions on policy direction so we are not the masters of our own destinies

***Turning a Job into a Career***

Obviously when I started at age 16 in the Scottish Executive (Scottish Office then) I wasn’t thinking about a career. I got a fright when the phone rang on my first day!

The best way I have to describe the career possibilities in the Scottish Executive is to describe what I achieved.

1990 – 1995
Grade: Admin Assistant (now known as A1)
My duties at this grade include: filing and photocopying papers, answering the phones, arranging meetings.
Qualifications funded in this time: “O” grade Mathematics, “Higher” English & Biology.

1995 – 1999
Grade: Admin Officer (now known as A3)
My duties included: dealing with complicated letters or telephone calls; taking notes of the proceedings at meetings; purchasing goods for a fleet of “Fishery Protection Vessels”.
Qualifications funded in this time: HNC Business Administration, Certificate of Competence in Purchasing & Supply.

>>>>suddenly the promotion procedures changed and it was now easier to get on in the organisation – if you could do the job you got a chance rather than having to be in a post for X number of years…During this entire time I have been on over 100 training courses on everything from oral presentations to statistical software packages

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Comments on this review

  • published 24/01/2005
    an interesting read, and good to learn a bit more about your job. Though not a job for me I must say. Like to be out and about, freezing me nuts off under cars all day !! hehe.... so much fun.......not, but the flexi time is off the head.... nice, just so long as I do the work ! ...Terry.
  • KEPP published 11/01/2005
    Another great review!
  • AnitaM published 31/12/2004
    I'd love that flexible working time. That must be one of the best perks. Excellent review covering everything anybody would need to know.
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Listed on Ciao since: 28/05/2001