Monday 20 August 2012

Civil servants are accountable to ministers ... or is it the other way round?

Whitehall is flying a kite in today's Times:
Whitehall looks to Labour as coalition tensions grow
Senior civil servants want closer links with Labour before the next general election, including helping with the party’s manifesto, The Times has learnt.

Informal discussions have taken place at the top of Whitehall on how to ease the Opposition’s possible transition to government and avoid a repeat of the policy fiascos and U-turns that senior mandarins believe have hampered the coalition since the election.

One option being considered is whether officials should be seconded to work with Labour as part of their career development. The move coincides with fears in Whitehall that the coalition is breaking up, with the two parties in government pursuing different paths over the next two years.

Civil servants argue privately that climbdowns on NHS reform, forestry privatisation, tax measures and the Lords could have been avoided if Whitehall had been involved earlier in some of the decisions ...
The polite myth is that civil servants are accountable to ministers and ministers are accountable to parliament.

No-one believes that, of course.

Civil servants don't seem to be accountable to anyone. Not to parliament, not to the common law, and not to any of the conventions of rational and responsible and dignified businesslike behaviour.

Nevertheless, it is as well to maintain the myth and avoid any Constitutional quibbling. Lady Jay and her House of Lords committee on the constitution are currently conducting an enquiry into the accountability of civil servants. No less than four former cabinet secretaries have appeared before the Committee and reaffirmed the doctrine.

If this kite flies, Lady Jay may have to invite their lordships back to clarify the position.

1 comment:

TAXPAYER said...

Yes, if only the Coalition had involved the Civil Service earlier, we'd have enjoyed the sort of triumphant outcome their involvement in setting the last Labour government's economic policy produced.

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