Cameron orders civil service to send Scotland to Coventry

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1995

By a Newsnet reporter

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, senior Westminster civil servants are under instructions to freeze out their Scottish counterparts when they attend official meetings.

The order for Westminster civil servants to refrain from discussing the future of Scotland with senior Scottish civil servants is thought to have come directly from David Cameron’s office.

Last year fears were expressed in Westminster that Scotland’s senior civil servant, Sir Peter Housden, had “gone native”, a phrase many in Scotland considered at best patronising and colonial, at worst racist.  English born and educated Sir Peter is the Scottish Government’s permanent secretary.  

Sir Gus O’Donnell, then the Prime Minister’s most senior civil servant, rejected the opposition complaints before he retired as Cabinet Secretary at the end of last year.

A “senior Whitehall source” quoted by the Telegraph said:

“It has come from the top that if there is anything very sensitive about Scotland then it cannot be discussed in front of [Sir Peter Housden].

“Concerns have been expressed at the highest level about this individual.  People cannot serve two masters ultimately and he has been put in a very difficult position by Salmond.”

According to the Telegraph, the permanent secretaries from all Whitehall departments will no longer discuss Scotland in meetings if Sir Peter Housden is present.  

Another “senior source” quoted in the Telegraph added: “The other permanent secretaries only discuss Scotland, nowadays, when Sir Peter is not there.”

The source told that Telegraph that Whitehall’s permanent secretaries believe they can no longer have “free and frank discussions” on Scotland in front of Sir Peter.  The heads of other Westminster departments now hold ad-hoc meetings in private to discuss Scotland, without informing the Scottish civil service of the outcome of their meetings.

The instruction not to not discuss any Scottish matters with Scotland’s most senior civil servant was issued after Mr Cameron being briefed by three former Government ministers with links to Scotland.  The Telegraph did not name the former ministers concerned.  Their identity will now be subject to speculation in Scotland.

The ban means that the Scottish civil service is no longer kept informed about the policies and plans of its English counterpart, meaning there is a serious risk that the good government of Scotland is prejudiced as the Scottish civil service is no longer aware of actions being planned or implemented by Whitehall.

As the communication ban extends to all Whitehall departments, confusion and duplication of effort is the most likely consequence, leading to inefficiency and waste of public money.