12 February 2013

Last week the British Government responded to the Lords Constitution Committee report on the accountability of civil servants. The response contains a number of assertions, indicating that there is little belief that any substantial change is necessary to enhance the responsiveness of Departments. These included:

• The existing model of Ministerial accountability should continue, with civil servants accountable to Ministers who are in turn accountable to Parliament.

• There is an important distinction between ministerial accountability and direct personal responsibility of Ministers for the actions of their Department.

• Ministers cannot sensibly be held responsible for everything which goes on in their Department.

• Secretaries of State must be involved at all stages of the selection process for all Permanent Secretaries, meeting candidates, providing feedback, and having their views considered where there is uncertainty about the merit order.

• The relevant Minister, and ultimately the Prime Minister, retain the power of veto over Permanent Secretary appointments
• All appointments to the Civil Service, including temporary appointments, must meet the requirements of the code of conduct including political impartiality but Ministers have a role in appointments to expert roles.

• No additional powers are required for the civil service to act as a check on the constitutionality of ministerial actions. “Ministers have a duty to give fair consideration and due weight to informed and impartial advice from civil servants”.

• Responsibility for the management and conduct of special advisers rests with the Minister who made the appointment.

• When civil servants give evidence to a select committee, they are doing so to contribute to the process of ministerial accountability to Parliament, and on behalf of their Ministers.
• The management and discipline of civil servants is a matter for the relevant Department.

• The public expects Ministers to be accountable for Arm’s Length Bodies, and to put public functions back into the hands of Ministers.

A fuller report is available on the following link.