The Conservatives have joined the debate over the future role of the Civil Service. The party’s proposals to ensure probity in government come as the Committee on Standards in Public Life (the Wicks Committee) begins its inquiry into the relationship between Ministers, special advisers and permanent civil servants, and the Government prepares a new Civil Service Act.A ten point ‘charter’ sets out to offer greater protection in law for impartial civil servants, a legally binding code of conduct for special advisers, fewer unaccountable czars and policy units and greater scrutiny of the prime minister.
The Conservatives say they plan to co-operate with the progress of a Civil Service Act and hope some of the charter proposals are included in it.
These include: Statutory protection for civil service impartiality, the revocation of the order in council which gives advisors authority over civil servants, a greater role for the Civil Service Commission over the appointment of press officers, a tighter statutory code of conduct for special advisers, and a requirement for the Prime Minister to appear before the Public Administration Committee to account for the operation of his office.
They also propose that the appointment of Permanent Secretaries should be subject to the approval of the relevant Departmental Select Committee, that there should be fewer unaccountable “czars” and policy units, that briefings by the PM’s press secretary be televised or recorded, and propose legal force for the Ministerial Code.
The proposals also call for a proper paper trail to be kept of all official meetings and conversations involving Ministers or senior civil servants, and for a commissioner to check out official papers to satisfy him or herself that there are no links between political donations and ministerial actions.