No-campaign partners urged to respond after fears raised over UK Civil Service impartiality

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
An SNP MSP is calling on the leaders of the Tories and Lib Dems in Scotland to clarify their views on reports that UK Ministers could be given the power to dismiss senior civil servants and adopt US-style political appointees to push through policy.
 
Bill Kidd MSP has written to Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie requesting the pair comment on the potential changes to the way the Civil Service is structured in Whitehall after fears were raised that it could lead to the erosion of its impartiality. 

Mr Kidd’s calls for a response follow recent complaints by the Scottish Tories and Lib Dems who accused the Scottish Government of politicising the Civil Service in Scotland.

According to reports, Francis Maude, the UK Cabinet Office minister, will examine proposals to:

* Force the most senior civil servants to tender their resignation when a new Government is elected. It would then be up to incoming ministers whether to reappoint them;

* Put permanent secretaries on fixed-term, results-based contracts from which they could be dismissed if they do not reach targets set by ministers;

* Dramatically extend the number of political appointees in the Civil Service.

In October last year, head of the Civil Service in Scotland, Sir Peter Housden was cleared of breaching Civil Service code after the Scottish leaders of all three Unionist parties wrote letters of complaint following comments Sir Peter had made in an internal email.

The Scottish MSPs were joined by Tory and Labour peers, George Foulkes and Michael Forsyth in the attack on the senior Civil servant.  Unionists were also unhappy at the establishment of a Director General, Strategy and External Affairs by the Scottish Government, a role they called a “separation tsar”.

The accusations were dismissed by the head of the UK’s civil service, Sir Gus O’Donnell, who said:

“Within Scotland there is an elected Government with a policy programme for, amongst other things, very significant constitutional change. The UK Government takes a different view on some of these issues.

“It is right and proper that civil servants working to their respective administrations undertake the relevant work to support Ministers to pursue their aims.”

Mr Kidd, SNP MSP and Senior Whip, said:

“Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie must spell out exactly what their thoughts are on the proposals Francis Maude is considering in regard to a radical shake-up in the civil service.
 
“For the Tories and Lib Dems to be so vocal in their criticism of the Scottish Government civil service but to say nothing when their government colleagues are considering proposals to politicise the civil service is rank hypocrisy.

“You come to expect double standards and nonsensical political point-scoring from the Tories and Lib Dems but unless they are consistent in their position then Mr Rennie and Ms Davidson should have the good grace to apologise for their unprecedented efforts to tarnish the reputations of independent civil servants in Scotland.

“They appear to think they have free reign to attack the civil service with their accusations and are now on very shaky ground – they must say exactly where they stand on this at once.”

The proposals by the UK coalition follow confirmation that the UK Treasury is to use public cash in order to fund an anti-independence role based in Scotland.  The successful applicant will be paid £50,000 of public cash in order to provide analysis and advice to UK Ministers in an attempt at helping spread a pro-Union economic message.

The letter to Ruth Davidson:

Dear Ruth,

I am writing to you and Mr Rennie, today to ask you, as the leaders of the Scottish Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, respectively, to clarify your views on reports that UK Ministers could be given the power to dismiss senior civil servants and adopt US-style political appointees to push through policy.

It is vital that you are forthcoming with your opinions of these potential changes in Whitehall, since you have gone on the record, several times, accusing the Scottish Government of politicising the civil service in Scotland.

Just what exactly are your own thoughts on the proposals Francis Maude is examining in regard to a radical shake-up in the civil service?

I look forward with interest to your response.

Kind Regards,
Bill Kidd MSP