While the total number of staff employed by local government has been falling there is still plenty of recruitment taking place. Sometimes that will be justified – within a declining overall total there will still some posts that have to be filled.

Given the economy drive it is important for those joining to be innovative. We need people to have a spark of independence – rather than just drifting along unquestioningly with a well established by inefficient pattern of activity.

So what is the recruitment process to ensure such people get the jobs?

A recent article in The Economist was discouraging. The fashion is for “competency tests”. The report says that the application form allows:

“..plenty of space for answers, and a few gently encouraging questions: “Tell us about a time you’ve shown leadership”, for example, or “Talk about when you’ve worked well under pressure”.

Under this process anecdotes are rated on a strict scoring system. But no checks are made as to whether the claimed heroic exploits are true. Yet Hays, a recruitment agency, claims the number of public-sector employers using this method has increased.

However The Economist adds:

“One complaint is that the tests favour candidates with time to practise the type of answers recruiters want—and that they encourage dishonesty. “Everyone makes stuff up on their forms,” admits a neurosurgeon. Recruiters, too, sometimes treat the process with contempt. One police applicant describes an interview packed with “set piece” questions, accompanied by silent direction from his assessors.

“Another concern is that they give good candidates little chance to shine. “There’s a right answer for every question,” moans a wannabe police officer. Geraint Rees, an academic, says the tests work “against diversity and against excellence”, by rewarding identikit answers.”

These “tortuous application processes” discourage high calibre applicants.

I would add that the more vacuously worded recruitment advertisement and absurd job titles are also off-putting. Even real jobs are made to sound like non-jobs. If a job title invites ridicule then that hardly encourages the best applicants.

Councillors should take responsibility for ensuring that council managers are recruited in a robust, no nonsense, way. If the process is vapid then it is a scarcely a surprise if the resulting appointments are mediocre.