The Cabinet Office has recently published a White Paper on social mobility – entitled New Opportunities – in which it expresses regret that:
"In certain high-status professions, the chance for individuals to access opportunities can be frustrated by traditional cultures, established recruitment processes and inflexible career pathways. These often longstanding practices and processes can make it hard for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to break into certain sectors, despite having the skills needed to be successful."
Notwithstanding the ghastly New Labour language, the passage above outlines an admirable aim. But yesterday Francis Maude, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, exposed the hollow nature of the Government’s rhetoric in spectacular fashion:
"It is great to see the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster here, filling a gap in his schedule between his cappuccino and his soup. Yesterday, he published a White Paper that made much of the aim, shared by everyone, of removing barriers to opportunity for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Why, then, are half of all civil service vacancies published only on a secret website accessible only to existing civil servants? Is that not exactly the sort of barrier to opportunity that should be swept away? Is it not a modern-day closed shop?
Mr. Watson: Yes, the right hon. Gentleman is right: internal vacancies are naturally advertised internally to colleagues, but we are doing a lot of work on this and I very much hope that civil service jobs will get a wider audience in weeks and months to come.
Mr. Maude: Is not the real reason for keeping this information secret from the public the fact that there is now a proliferation of public sector—state sector—jobs? Just this week, the Cabinet Office alone is recruiting for a chief psychologist, a Downing street butler and a change manager. Is not the solution to the recession caused by Labour not a change manager but a change of Government?
Mr. Watson: No, none of that is right. We have the smallest civil service since the second world war, and we are targeting £5 billion of efficiency savings. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right about the specific question. We do need to improve how people access vacancies for civil service jobs, and I hope to announce more measures on that in months to come."
(Anyone wondering about the remarks about cappuccino and his soup should read this.)
Eric Pickles (Shadow Communities Secretary) uncovered last February that nearly 3,000 civil service jobs are not advertised to the public online:
"To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how many and what proportion of Civil Service vacancies have been advertised on the (a) public and (b) Civil Service and accredited non-departmental public bodies staff-only sections of the Civil Service recruitment gateway website in the last 12 months. 
Mr. Watson: Government Departments are responsible for ensuring that their vacancies are publicised on the civil service recruitment gateway. Data is not collected centrally on the total number of civil service and NDPB vacancies at any given time.
From 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2007, 5,727 vacancies were advertised, of which (a) 2,916 were advertised on the public part of the site and (b) 2,811 on the civil service and accredited non-departmental public bodies staff-only section of the civil service recruitment gateway website."
This is Opposition at its best. Well done to both Mr Maude and Mr Pickles.
Whilst some jobs in the civil service will be best suited to candidates who are already civil servants, the application process should surely be far more open than it is currently. Indeed who is to say that a successful business person (for example) should necessarily not go straight into a senior civil service role?
If that appears unthinkable, bear in mind that both the last Prime Minister and the probable next one had no ministerial experience (although David Cameron has worked in Whitehall).