Memorandum by the FDA (GI 1)
each individual special adviser should
have a personal job description which would include their role,
if any, with the media and therefore the Government's Information
and Communication Service (GICS);
the Centre for Policy and Management
Studies (CPMS) considers whether training could be developed for
both civil servants and special advisers about their mutual interaction
and respective roles;
structured training, including induction
training, be developed for special advisers;
GICS consider additional advice for
special advisers on their relationship with the media; and
there will be a needand there
is an immediate needfor a strong message across Government
that the political impartiality of the civil service must be respected
day by day in terms of relationships between Ministers, special
advisers and civil servants and that the Government will treat
seriously, at a political level, breaches of either the Civil
Service Code or the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers.
1. The FDA has more than 11,000 members
and represents senior managers and professionals in public service.
Our membership includes senior civil servants and other staff
working in government departments, and special advisers.
2. The FDA supports the system of having
special advisers within government. This system helps protect,
not undermine, the political impartiality of a permanent civil
service, assists civil servants on a day-to-day basis in their
work, and helps to support Ministers.
3. In seeking to protect the political impartiality
of a permanent civil service, the FDA supports the recommendations
of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in its Sixth Report
in calling for a limit to be placed on the number of special advisers.
The FDA has not offered a particular figure but will consider
this further in the context of a wider debate about the content
of a Civil Service Act. We are concerned that under the current
arrangements a Prime Minister could expand the numbers of special
advisers within government without any apparent constraint.
4. The FDA believes that the Code of Conduct
for Special Advisers published in July 2001 has been helpful in
setting out more clearly work that is appropriate to special advisers
(paragraph 3) in a way that was not previously explicit. The publication
of a separate code for special advisers has caused some controversy
amongst special advisers themselves in that it seeks to draw a
clearer distinction between permanent civil servants and special
advisers. In practice such a distinction exists and the separate
code is simply a formal recognition of that and can be seen as
helping to support, rather than diminish, the remit of special
5. Our experience is that in general relationships
between special advisers and permanent civil servants are good
and constructive. Where a special adviser is working effectively
he or she is enhancing the ability of civil servants to do their
job. The FDA is concerned at the recent tendency, both politically
and in the media, to "demonise" special advisers. It
would be naive to suggest that there are not tensions but for
the most part these are no different to those that arise between
colleagues working in any environment. Where problems have arisen
there appear to be two main factors.
6. Firstly, where there is a lack of clarity
about the role that a Minister expects an individual special adviser
to undertake. Given that no Minister uses their special advisers
in exactly the same way, each individual special adviser should
have a personal job description which would include their role,
if any, with the media and therefore the Government Information
and Communication Service (GICS).
7. Secondly, problems can arise in day-to-day
working relationships if there is a lack of understanding either
on the part of a civil servant about what the appropriate role
of a special adviser is, or with a special adviser who does not
fully understand what is and is not appropriate to the work of
a civil servant. The FDA therefore suggests that the Centre for
Policy and Management Studies (CPMS) considers whether training
could be developed for both civil servants and special advisers
about their mutual interaction and respective roles. In addition,
the FDA has noted with surprise that special advisers receive
no specific training, and in particular no induction training.
This is in contrast to somebody appointed from outside the civil
service to a civil service post as a result of open competition.
The FDA therefore suggests that structured training, including
induction training, be developed for special advisers.
8. For special advisers dealing with the
media, there is potential discrepancy between the code of conduct
and the guidance on the work of the GICS. For example, the Basic
Conventions of the Government Information and Communications Service
require, amongst other things, that media activities:
"ii. Should be objective and explanatory,
not tendentious or polemical;
iii. should not be, or be liable to misrepresentation
as being, party political"
whilst the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers
explains that the work of a special adviser may include:
"ix. Representing the views of their
Minister to the media including a Party viewpoint, where they
have been authorised by the Minister to do so".
9. The FDA suggests that the GICS consider
additional advice for special advisers on their relationships
with the media.
10. The FDA also welcomes paragraph 22 of
the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers which states that:
"22 Any civil servant who believes that
the action of a special adviser goes beyond that adviser's authority
or breaches the Civil Service Code should raise the matter immediately
with the Secretary of the Cabinet of the First Civil Service Commissioner,
directly or through a senior civil servant."
11. However, the FDA believes that whilst
in most cases the protection set out in para 22 of the code, which
go beyond the provisions of the Civil Service Code, will allow
problems of relationships or activities to be resolved satisfactorily,
individual civil servants must have the confidence that perceived
breaches will be dealt with not only by the civil service but
will be acknowledged at a political level. Even with a Civil Service
Act, there will be a needand there is an immediate needfor
a strong message across Government that the political impartiality
of the civil service must be respected day by day in terms of
relationships between Ministers, special advisers and civil servants
and that the Government will treat seriously, at a political level,
breaches of either the Civil Service Code or the Code of Conduct
for Special Advisers just as there is an overriding obligation
on civil servants of loyalty to their Minister and the elected
12. The FDA has been actively campaigning
for the introduction of a Civil Service Act, and welcomes the
support given by the Government, Conservative Party and Liberal
Democrat Party. We look forward to the consultation paper being
prepared by the Cabinet Office and will wish to comment more fully
in the coming weeks. The FDA believes that there is a number of
significant reasons why a Civil Service Act is now appropriate.
The civil service had continued to
change over the past 150 years. Sometimes that change has been
evolutionary, at other times rapid and dramatic as for example
during the two world wars. Considerable change was implemented
by the Conservative governments of 1979 to 1997, and the Labour
Government elected from 1997 has placed public sector reform at
the heart of its agenda, with a reform programme specifically
for the civil service. Successive governments have however continued
to emphasise their commitment to the underlying values of the
civil service first set out in 1854, and civil servants have felt
confident about embracing change in the knowledge that those values
are not being eroded. The FDA believes that the Civil Service
Act demonstrates a commitment by the Government to maintain those
values at a time when the pace of change is, if anything, accelerating
and civil servants are being expected to undertake new roles.
Those underpinning values are moreover
not just important to civil servants but serve as a guarantee
to all citizens that civil servants throughout the UK undertake
their many varied tasks within a clearly-understood ethical and
constitutional framework. That in turn assists in the ability
of the civil service to deliver on behalf of Ministers and citizens.
It is no exaggeration to claim that those underpinning values
are respected throughout the world and serve as a model for civil
The routes for entry are becoming
more varied. Many departments are now opening up almost all their
more senior posts to external competition. The risks of loss of
impartiality may be greater, and are certainly perceived to be
so, as the concept of a career service is eroded and more appointments
are made on the basis of specific external experience.
There are likely to be increasing
pressures on the Recruitment Code as the civil service culture
changes and managers, many from outside the civil service, ask
why the whole recruitment process needs to be undertaken within
a central framework. Fair and open competition is good practice,
but there are also cost implications from this. It is not clear
that the Government recognises it is a cost worth paying.
The role and accountability of civil
servants vis-a"-vis the citizen, ministers, Parliament, the
Crown, departments etc are unclear. This lack of constitutional
underpinning for civil servants' status has been repeatedly highlighted
in recent years.
Devolution has created a new framework
for governance within the UK. New relationships between civil
servants and politicians are developing. With growing diversity
in the administration of the UK at national levels, an Act would
help to clarify the position of those public servants working
within the civil service or civil services, and provide a clear
comparator for practice adopted in other strata of government
and by future national governments.
The number of different codes is
beginning to create confusion. There are already codes for civil
servants, ministers, special advisers, the model contract for
special advisers, and the code for the Government Information
and Communication Service. There is a need to define the relationships
properly between the different parts of the Executive and to have
clarity in the relationships between different codes.
13. The result of these developments is
an increased scope for the traditional values of the civil service
to be challenged. It is clear that significant changes could be
made to the way the civil service operates without the need for
any legislation. Indeed, a Prime Minister so wishing could make
wide-ranging changes without any checks.
14. The FDA does not see a Civil Service
Act as being about inhibiting future change. Rather it is about
making sure that any changes are made after meaningful debate
and within the context of agreed principles and values. In particular,
an Act would give Parliamentary support to the political impartiality
of the civil service, whilst enabling that underlying value to
be interpreted in the light of changing circumstances.
15. The FDA believes that an Act would also
help to minimise any potential conflict between special advisers
and civil servants by reinforcing the importance of political
impartiality within the civil service.