Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 26, July 11, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

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What is a Civil Servant?

Martin Stanley, Understanding the Civil Service website (excerpts)

The UK's (unwritten) constitution recognises three independent power bases within Central Government:

(The media and journalists are often referred to as the Fourth Estate. This is by reference to the three historic Estates: - the nobility, the clergy and "The Third Estate" - everyone else. Bishops and some hereditary nobility even now continue to sit in the House of Lords, The UK Parliament's second chamber.)

The Executive=Government Ministers and Civil Servants.

Judges, magistrates, and those employed by Parliament are thus not civil servants. Nor are the police, the armed forces, and those employed in the National Health Service and by Local Authorities.

In More Detail ...

Civil servants are those who are employed by "the Crown".

The "Crown" fulfils the same role at the national level that the "State" fulfils on the international plane. The Executive (the government of the day) represents the Crown/State. The Crown and State endure; governments come and go. "The Crown", for this purpose at least, does not include Her Majesty herself - so those employed by the Monarch are not civil servants.

Civil servants are usually - but not always - in practice employed by "Ministers of the Crown" - so most civil servants work in government departments and are therefore employed by Government Ministers.

Parliament is quite separate from the Crown so those who are employed by Parliament are also not civil servants.

And those employed by other public bodies - such as local authorities, the NHS, the police service, and the BBC - are also not civil servants. Indeed, only 1 in 12 UK public servants are classed as civil servants.

This note accordingly looks in some detail at the various types of public body and considers whether they employ civil servants. As you will see from the following notes, there are many different types of public body. It is easy to see why some fall into one category or another, but others could easily have been created, and so categorised, in a different way, and their status owes more to historical accident than clever design. [...]

Those Employed by Parliament

This first category of public body is comprised of Parliament itself, and the bodies which report direct to Parliament, including the National Audit Office, the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Electoral Commission. Constitutionally, employees of these bodies are not servants of the Crown and they are therefore not civil servants.

Civil Servants

The second category of public body is comprised mainly of those who work for Government departments which report to Ministers (who are of course always Parliamentarians).

This website is written for and about those civil servants who work in such departments. A list of Ministerial Government Departments may be found on the Cabinet Office website, and a list (as at 2014) is at the end of this note.

As civil servants are employed by the Crown, and not by individual departments, they can be transferred between departments without formality and without losing employment rights. This not only facilitates the free flow of staff between departments, but also greatly facilitates reorganisations within central government. Indeed, it is quite common for large numbers of civil servants to find themselves working for an entirely different department at only a few hours' notice.

Special Advisers are political appointees who are employed by Ministerial government departments on special terms. They are, however, still civil servants. [...]


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