Headlines: March 27th, 2002

Civil Service head, Sir Richard Wilson, wants a clear framework to help the Civil Service cope with constitutional change, management change and political change. He sees the Civil Service as a shock-absorber at the heart of the State responding to Globalisation, developments in science and technology, changes in social attitudes and behaviour, and growth in the power of the media. A Civil Service Act would give some stability in this volatile situation and allow departmental heads to get on with their jobs.A key feature of a Civil Service Act would be a new code for special advisers. Although they are frequently described as spin doctors, only about half of the 81 advisers have any dealings with the media. He argues that under a code, Parliament should decide the maximum number of advisers and that there should be a clear statement about what they cannot do. For example they should not have any role in the recruitment and promotion of permanent civil servants, nor should they have any involvement in line management or the assessment of performance and pay.

Sir Richard believes that the arguments for a Civil Service Act incorporating the existing Civil Serve Code and a new Special Advisers Code are now stronger than the arguments against legislation. An Act would have to recognize that the Civil Service is working at the frontier of change and it should be framed in a way which supported the modernisation of the Civil Service without making its management rigid or inflexible.