Audit of Recruitment by the Public Appointments Service (PAS) to Senior Professional Positions in Local Authorities

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1 Audit of Recruitment by the Public Appointments Service (PAS) to Senior Professional Positions in Local Authorities AUDIT REPORT October 2012

2 Contents Chapter 1 - Introduction and Background Introduction The Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act Purpose of the Audit Details of Work Undertaken and Areas Reviewed Acknowledgements... 4 Chapter 2 - Audit Findings - Appointment Processes Introduction Overview of the appointment process Senior Local Authority positions Chief Fire Officer, Roscommon County Council Conclusions Chapter 3 Conclusions and Recommendations Appendix 1 - Audit Procedures... 14

3 Chapter 1 - Introduction and Background 1.1 Introduction This report has been prepared under Section 43 (5) and Section 13 of the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act The report provides an account of the audit of the recent appointment processes conducted by the Public Appointments Service (PAS) on behalf of the Local Authorities. Under the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, 1926, every Local Authority is required to request the PAS to recommend to them a person for appointment to certain positions to which the Act applies this includes all senior level positions at Grade 8 or above, for example Senior Engineer, Architects and Planners. These appointment processes are carried out by the PAS under their Recruitment Licence and are therefore subject to the Commission s Codes of Practice. The Commission is committed to undertaking audits in a spirit of improvement and with the goal of sharing knowledge and best practice rather than focusing solely on compliance. Details of the Commission s audit procedures are set out at Appendix The Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004 Appointment processes to all positions within the remit of the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004 are subject to Codes of Practice published by the Commission. The Codes set out the regulatory framework for such appointment processes and centre on five recruitment principles. Through its audit function, the Commission safeguards the standards established in the Codes of Practice and ensures compliance by the Licence Holder with the terms and conditions of its Recruitment Licence. 1.3 Purpose of the Audit The purpose of this audit is to confirm compliance with the terms and conditions of the Recruitment Licence held by the Chief Executive of the Public Appointments Service in the conduct of appointment processes for certain Local Authority positions in accordance with the Code of Practice. 1.4 Details of Work Undertaken and Areas Reviewed The audit focused on the period from 1 January 2012 to 1 September The audit reviewed the following appointment processes, conducted during the period covered by the audit, for appointment to positions as: Senior Executive Engineer, Louth County Council Senior Planner, Laois County Council 3

4 Executive Manager (Engineering), Dublin City Council Chief Fire Officer, Roscommon County Council The audit entailed an examination of the competition file for each of the above processes followed by a discussion with a staff member from the Senior Professional Recruitment Unit in PAS. The Chief Fire Officer position was selected for a more detailed examination, including discussions with the interview board members. 1.5 Acknowledgements The Commission would like to thank the personnel in the Senior Professional Recruitment Unit in the Public Appointments Service who gave their time and cooperation to this audit process. 4

5 Chapter 2 - Audit Findings - Appointment Processes 2.1 Introduction All recruitment and selection for senior Local Authority positions is conducted by the Senior Professional Recruitment Unit in the PAS. The Recruitment Manager in the Unit is responsible for managing all stages of the appointments process from planning the campaign through to making the recommendation of a candidate for appointment. During the period under audit the PAS reported that four Local Authority professional competitions had been held during the period under review: Senior Executive Engineer, Louth County Council Senior Planner, Laois County Council Executive Manager (Engineering), Dublin City Council While all four recruitment campaigns were reviewed and found to be very similar in terms of the process, it was decided to examine the following competition in more detail to ensure compliance with the Codes of Practice: Chief Fire Officer, Roscommon County Council As part of the audit the Commission reviewed policies and supporting documentation relating to the selected appointment processes. Discussions were held with personnel in the Recruitment Unit who are involved in managing all stages of the processes. The audit team also held discussions with the interview board members for the Chief Fire Officer position. 2.2 Overview of the appointment process Senior Local Authority positions Sanction and Advertising Before filling any senior professional position in a local authority sanction must be obtained from the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. A statutory request is then submitted from the local authority to the PAS to recommend a person for appointment to the vacant post in accordance with Section 6 of the Local Authorities Act A Candidate Information Booklet for the post is then prepared by the PAS in consultation with the relevant local authority. Details relating to the job and person specifications and essential requirements for the position are provided by the Local Authority and incorporated into the Information Booklet for candidates. The Booklet also includes details of the pay and conditions, the competition process, selection methods and review procedures. The jobs are advertised on publicjobs.ie and in the Friday edition of the Irish Times. 5

6 Application Process The application form requires candidates to provide details of their qualifications and employment record and also to answer supplementary questions relating to their relevant experience for the job. Candidates are required to complete their applications online and submit them to PAS through publicjobs.ie by the required closing date. Interview Board The composition of the interview board for senior professional local authority positions generally follows a standard format; (i) Chairperson selected by the PAS (ii) Local Authority representative, eg Director of Services or County Manager (nominee of County Manager) (iii) A senior professional with expertise in the position advertised (iv) selected by PAS A senior representative of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. If shortlisting is being employed the shortlisting board will be constituted the same as the interview board. In exceptional circumstances it may not be possible to get a chairperson for shortlisting and for those occasions the PAS representative will act as chairperson on the shortlisting board. Selection Process Candidates are advised in the Information Booklet that the selection methods may include: Shortlisting of candidates on the basis of the information contained in their application to reduce the list of candidates to a more manageable number for interview A preliminary interview which may in turn include a presentation by the candidate A competitive interview which may also include a presentation by the candidate. In the event of a shortlisting exercise being employed the expert board examine the application forms and assess them against pre-determined criteria based on the requirements of the position. Candidates are therefore advised to provide a detailed and accurate account of their qualifications/experience on their application form. Interviews for these senior professional posts usually follow a semi-structured format with questions based on the requirements of the post as outlined in the Information Booklet but also on the information provided by the candidate on their application form. PAS provides briefing to the members of the interview board in advance which covers largely procedural matters such as compliance with the principles set out in the Commission s Codes of Practice, but also dealing with the assessment of candidates under the pre-determined headings. During the pre-interview briefing and discussion, the Selection Board are encouraged to discuss the requirements and duties of the role as set out in the Candidate Information Booklet and agree the areas they will question candidates on. Each heading is allocated a maximum score and 6

7 candidates must score at least 50% under each heading in order to qualify. The interview board are advised by the PAS to place all candidates who are found to be qualified on a panel in order of merit. A PAS representative sits in on all interviews to take notes and provide any assistance or advice to the board as may be required. Post-interviews Following the interviews the local authority receives written notification of the successful candidate who is recommended for appointment to the position. The offer of appointment is made to the candidate by the local authority concerned. All candidates who are placed on the panel are advised of their panel position and those who are unsuccessful at interview are advised of the availability of feedback on request. Written feedback provided to candidates advises them of the marks awarded to them, the maximum marks available and the marks required to qualify. Candidates are also provided with a summary comment from the interview board following their assessment of the candidate at interview Chief Fire Officer, Roscommon County Council In February 2012 a statutory request from Roscommon County Council to the PAS was made under the Local Authorities Act 1926 to recommend a person for appointment to the position of Chief Fire Officer. Following consultation with the Council a Candidate Information Booklet was produced based on an Information Booklet for the same position in another County Council. The position was advertised on 24 February 2012 on publicjobs.ie and in the Irish Times with a closing date of 16 March Candidate Information Booklet The Information Booklet provided candidates with a job description for the post of Chief Fire Officer in the Roscommon County Council Fire Service, the essential requirements and principal conditions of service. It also included information on the application process and selection methods to be used for the competition. Candidates were also advised of the review procedures available and other general information on candidates obligations and Data Protection. Job Description A detailed job description was provided which included the functional responsibilities relevant to the post, the management and administration duties, as well as the areas in which experience was required. The essential requirements and qualifications for the position were set out as declared by the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government. This included the academic qualifications required, professional and technical knowledge, relevant experience, specified training requirements and experience in administration and service management. Shortlisting and Interview Board The standard format of board members for senior local authority positions were selected to participate in the shortlisting and interview stages of the 7

8 competition. In this instance the board members comprised an independent Chairperson selected by the PAS, Chief Fire Officer from Wexford County Council again selected by PAS, Offaly County Manager (nominated by Roscommon County Manager) and National Director in Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (nominated by the Department). While all four board members conducted the interviews the Chairperson was not involved in the shortlisting stage. All four board members were interviewed separately in relation to the selection process. Discussions focussed on training and interviewing experience, preparation and briefing, the shortlisting process, the interviews and assessment of candidates, and their evaluation of the process. Selection Process (i) Shortlisting - A total of 15 applications were received by the PAS for the Chief Fire Officer post. The shortlisting board met on 26 April to examine the applications with a view to drawing up a list of candidates to be invited for interview. A PAS representative briefed the Board in advance on their roles and responsibilities and also sat with the Board during shortlisting to provide advice or guidance as necessary. In advance of examining the applications the Board agreed that candidates experience should include a balance between breadth and depth of knowledge, experience and training across the fire and local authority activities, e.g. operations, command and control, fire safety engineering, community fire safety, emergency management, as well as adequate experience in administration and service management including management of staff. The Board agreed to shortlist those who appeared to them to be likely to attain a standard sufficient to merit selection and recommendation for appointment. A total of 10 candidates were shortlisted by the Board to be invited to attend for interview. (ii) Interviews In advance of the interviews the Board members met to discuss the details of the job, their respective roles and their line of questioning. The Board were briefed by a PAS representative and provided with interview guidelines on the format of the interviews including timing, areas to be examined, Chairperson s role and approach to questioning. PAS also provided the following headings under which candidates were to be assessed based on the requirements of the job: Knowledge of Value 100 marks Requisite skills to carry out duties of Chief Fire Officer Knowledge of water supply systems, principles of hydraulics and pumps, technological and industrial processes, telecommunications and IT Technical knowledge Professional Experience & Application of Knowledge 150 marks Experience in fire fighting/emergency operations/fire safety Training in and knowledge of firefighting techniques, command/control at fires and major incidents, principles of fire safety engineering including fire chemistry, fire dynamics, active/passive fire control, building performance and fire safety design Technical training and experience Initiative & Problem Solving Skills 100 marks Good judgement and decision making skills 8

9 Demonstrate initiative and innovation in identifying areas for service improvement Demonstrate commitment to delivering a quality service Demonstrate ability to evaluate information and make effective decisions especially with regard to service delivery Demonstrate ability to facilitate change and improve service delivery Management Experience & Skills 150 marks Experience in administration and management, including control/discipline of staff Ability to manage and prioritise resources Demonstrate ability to manage/develop staff & others in a busy working environment Demonstrate effective supervision skills Demonstrate effective leadership and team working skills Interpersonal Skills 100 marks Display effective interpersonal and communication (verbal & written) skills including multi-disciplinary working and ability to collaborate with colleagues etc The interviews took place on May 2012 for the 10 shortlisted candidates. The format of the interviews was semi-structured, based on the duties and requirements of the job as well as information provided by candidates in their application forms. The PAS Representative also attended the interviews to provide assistance and guidance to the Board members as required and to keep a written record of the questions asked during the interviews. Following each interview the Board assessed the candidate and awarded marks under each of the headings after reaching consensus. Candidates were required to reach a qualifying mark (50%) under each heading in order to qualify. Two candidates qualified at interview and were placed in order of merit. The remaining eight candidates did not qualify as, in the view of the Selection Board, they did not demonstrate that they possessed the knowledge, skills and attributes necessary for the role. Candidates knowledge of Irish was taken into account where applicable and additional marks (6% of total marks available) were awarded by the PAS to the final scores following interview. The Interview Board s order of merit was not affected as a result of additional marks awarded. The PAS notified the County Manager, Roscommon County Council in writing on 21 May of the successful candidate recommended for appointment following the competitive selection process. Communication with Candidates Candidates were advised promptly by following both the shortlisting stage and interviews of the results of their candidature. Those who were unsuccessful at the interview stage were offered the opportunity to avail of feedback on request to the PAS. Written feedback was provided on request setting out the maximum marks available, qualifying marks and marks awarded at interview under each of the headings. Candidates also received a summary comment from the Interview Board following their assessment at interview. There were no appeals or request for review from candidates following the appointment process. 9

10 2.3 Conclusions The following conclusions are based on the examination of the four senior professional local authority positions conducted by the PAS earlier this year and in particular the competition for Chief Fire Officer, Roscommon County Council. Probity The principles established by the Commission in the Code of Practice are underpinned by the core values that define probity such as integrity, impartiality, fairness, reliability and ethical conduct. The Commission is concerned to nurture a values-based culture of trust, fairness, transparency and respect for all (Code of Practice 2.1) The Principle of Probity encompasses all other principles and will be evidenced in every aspect of the process, through the Licence Holder s overall adherence and respect for the terms of the Code of Practice, and respect for confidentiality and all legislative requirements. The Commission is satisfied, in the main, that the recruitment and selection processes conducted by the PAS to recommend persons for appointment to senior professional local authority positions were managed in a fair and impartial manner. The selection processes examined were designed and managed to ensure that candidates were assessed against clear, transparent and relevant criteria, which is the core foundation of a values-based process. Compliance with the relevant legislation and a commitment to confidentiality at all stages in the process was evident. Appointments made on merit Appointment on merit means the appointment of the best person for any given post through a transparent competitive recruitment process where the criteria for judging suitability of candidates can be related directly to the qualifications, attributes and skills required to undertake the duties and responsibilities to the required standard. It is essential to ensure that the selection process does not provide unjustifiable advantage or disadvantage to any particular candidate or group of candidates (Code of Practice 2.2). The Candidate Information Booklet provided to candidates at the outset of each competition set out clearly defined job descriptions and person specifications for the role. In addition to this information candidates were advised of the responsibilities, experience and essential requirements for the job that they had to demonstrate in their application for the purposes of shortlisting and interview as appropriate. The assessment and selection of candidates was based on clearly defined criteria that reflected the skills and qualities relevant to the post at both the shortlisting and interview stages of the process. There was evidence that during the competitive merit-based selection process all candidates were 10

11 treated equally and the decisions taken by the Selection Board were based on the qualifications, attributes and skills necessary to fulfil the duties and responsibilities of the job to the required standard. In the main, the criteria and methodology adopted in the selection processes were designed to ensure that appointments were made on the basis of merit. An appointments process in line with best practice Best practice extends to all aspects of the appointment process, including defining job and person specifications, marketing the vacancy and selecting appropriate assessment mechanisms. It also includes providing training and supporting management arrangements to ensure the creation and maintenance of appropriate records (Code of Practice 2.3). The job descriptions and person specifications were fully considered at the planning stage of each appointments process to reflect the requirements of the job and were then consistently reflected throughout the process. The assessment mechanism used at both shortlisting and interview was transparent and clearly supported by pre-determined selection criteria. The assessment and selection process was supported by the composition of the Interview Boards whose members had the necessary skills, expertise and knowledge of the requirements for the post to ensure the selection of the best person for the job. The Code requires that fully documented records, which clearly support each stage of the process, are retained, including notes of interviews. This was found to be the case on examination of the competition files. The Commission is satisfied that there were effective management systems in place to fully support each stage of the process in line with best practice. It is noted however that there was no evidence of review or evaluation of the effectiveness of the appointment processes to form part of a quality assurance exercise. Engaging with all stakeholders at the end of the process would give added-value and would provide important feedback to the PAS in terms of assuring the process as being fit for purpose to select the best person for the job on behalf of the client. A fair appointments process applied with consistency A fair appointments process applied with consistency means the selection process adopted and the manner in which it is applied must be undertaken with real commitment to equality of opportunity. Office holders have an obligation to treat candidates fairly, to a consistent standard and in a consistent manner (Code of Practice 2.4). 11

12 The assessment tools used in all cases were based on clearly defined selection criteria underpinned by the requirements of the job thereby promoting the principle of equality of opportunity. The preparation of the board members, including relevant briefing from the PAS, supports a fair and consistent process. In addition the attendance of a PAS representative during the shortlisting stage and interviews provided further support in relation to treating candidates fairly and ensuring consistently throughout the selection process. It is noted the PAS follows a standard procedure for the selection of board members for these senior professional positions which helps to ensure an appropriate level of knowledge and expertise of the job requirements as well as the relevant interview training and experience. It also ensures that those charged with the selection of the best person for the job are chosen independently. Appointments made in an open, accountable and transparent manner Transparency in the appointment process and the openness with which candidates are dealt with by office holders will enhance candidate confidence. Open and active communication on the process and the basis for assessment is essential. There should also be a real commitment to offering meaningful feedback to candidates who seek it (Code of Practice 2.5). Transparency throughout the process was evident through the use of clear assessment and scoring systems by the shortlisting and interview boards with supporting documentation including interview notes and scoring sheets for all candidates. Communication with candidates at all stages of the process was also in evidence. The Commission is satisfied that the information made available to candidates at the outset of each appointment process was clear and comprehensive in relation to the selection process and the basis for assessment. While it was noted that feedback was offered to candidates in some instances this approach was not consistent. It is recommended that candidates are made aware of the availability of feedback at the outset of the process, including how it will be managed, and that the offer of feedback is made available to all candidates following each stage of the process. 12

13 Chapter 3 Conclusions and Recommendations 3.1 Conclusions The findings of the audit indicate that, in the main, the recruitment and selection processes for the appointment of senior professional personnel in the local authorities are conducted by the PAS in line with the principles of the Code of Practice. There was evidence of a fair, impartial and consistent process with a view to selecting the best person for the job supported by clearly defined job descriptions and person specifications which were reflected throughout the appointment process. In this regard the Commission wishes to acknowledge the commitment of the PAS in the development of appropriate job and person specifications in response to a previous recommendation resulting from a Section 8 complaint. The Commission notes the composition of the Selection Boards for these positions to include experienced members with a high level of expertise and in-depth knowledge of the requirements for the relevant job. This, together with comprehensive pre-determined selection criteria developed by the PAS for use by the Board in the assessment of candidates, supports a robust, open and transparent process for the appointment of the most suitable candidate for the job. Following the audit the Commission has identified some areas for improvement which are outlined below in the recommendations. 3.2 Recommendations To put management systems in place to ensure the effectiveness of assessment processes is reviewed and evaluated regularly. To advise candidates at the outset of the process of the availability of feedback and to ensure that systems are in place so that the offer of feedback is made available to all candidates following each stage of the process. 13

14 Appendix 1 - Audit Procedures Advance notice is given of the intention to carry out an audit. This not only provides sufficient time to prepare all necessary documentation and statistics, but also permits the review to take place with the minimum of disruption. At the conclusion of an audit, the findings of the audit are always discussed with the body audited before a report is submitted to the Commission. Those subject to audit also have the opportunity to comment on audit reports in respect of matters of factual accuracy, before such reports are finalised. Where shortcomings in a particular area of recruitment, recruitment policy, or recruitment practice have been identified, recommendations to address them will be made. While the principal emphasis is on providing assistance and support, the focus will be to ensure that: There is no scope for patronage. Licence holders instructions and guidance, including guidance on the use of listed recruitment agencies, are consistent with the spirit and letter of the Commission s Code of Practice. All those with responsibility for organising recruitment processes understand the Commission s requirements. Those serving on selection boards undergo training delivered on a timely basis and appropriate to the specific assessment process being deployed or have sufficient interviewing experience at an appropriate level Those administering selection techniques are appropriately qualified individuals who have received proper training. Action has been taken to correct any instances uncovered by internal monitoring where the Code of Practice has not been followed, and that any new developments in recruitment policy or practice such as new selection procedures are consistent with the Code. 14

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