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Who are Civil Servants?
Civil servants are technically those people employed by the Crown. In theory the Queen appoints all Government Ministers, though in practice the Prime Minister (and during the Coalition also the Deputy Prime Minister) appoints Ministers. This means that Government politicians are defined as Ministers of the Crown and civil servants are all those who are responsible to the Government. So civil servants are those who work for:-
- Government Departments such as the Home Office or Department for Transport. Political Advisers in each Department are still civil servants.
- Executive Agencies, headed by a Chief Executive, that deal with detailed areas of Government work such as the Prisons Service and the Highways Agency and a number of what are known as non-ministerial departments that are responsible to the Government but because of the nature of their work need to have a level of independence such as HM Revenue and Customs and the Food Standards Agency
- The devolved Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
Other people that work for public bodies are not civil servants and this includes the Armed Forces, the BBC, the NHS, Quangos that are responsible to a Board such as the Environment Agency and the Arts Council England and Local Government.
Civil servants have a Code which specifies the standards to which they should keep, such as impartiality, and can complain to the Civil Service Commissioners if they are asked to breach this code. They have a separate grading and pay structure. There is a common process of entry and most civil servants are seen as having a general expertise in administration rather than a technical or professional expertise, which most people working in the NHS or for local government need, though they may develop a detailed knowledge of a particular policy area. They are employed by the Government as a whole rather than by a particular department and so can be moved between organisations. This makes it easier to reorganise Government Departments.
Over 3000 civil servants are in the Senior Civil Service. Senior Civil Servants work closely with Minister; their job is to help Ministers set priorities, make sure that the Department runs smoothly, bring together all the expertise in the Department to deal with issues and problems and keep in touch with pressure groups and others in the outside world. Departments keep in touch with each other to sort out problems that overlap their responsibilities. Each Government Department is headed by a Permanent Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary is responsible for the civil service as a whole.