“Call to politicise civil servants” – The Herald


by Robbie Dinwoodie

TOP mandarins should become political appointments and Holyrood should be in complete control of the civil service in Scotland, a pre-election report by a think-tank claims.

The controversial move would fly in the face of the traditional view that the institution in Britain always maintains a strict stance of political impartiality.

But Reform Scotland argues that “the prevailing culture within the service is not conducive to innovation in policy making,” adding: “The fundamental cause of this is a lack of accountability and transparency within the civil service.”

It urges: “Give democratically elected politicians the power to appoint senior civil servants as happens in other countries such as France, Australia and Canada. This democratic accountability is the best way of holding senior civil servants to account and has enhanced performance since its introduction in Australia in 2004.”

It also calls for the abolition of the doctrine of ministerial responsibility as this “shields officials from taking personal responsibility for their actions and also draws ministers into the process of policy delivery.”

It argues ministers should be responsible for the strategic direction of policy and its communication, while officials are responsible for the construction of policy and the use of resources. Decisions and actions of civil servants should be much more subject to scrutiny.

“The civil service in Scotland, which is responsible for the delivery of Scottish Government policy, is part of the Home Civil Service and ultimately responsible to the UK Prime Minister,” states the report.

“Following devolution, this is no longer sensible and accountability would be enhanced if responsibility for the Scottish civil service was devolved to the Scottish Parliament, with the First Minister having sole responsibility for appointing the Permanent Secretary.

The think-tank’s director Geoff Mawdsley stressed that only a small number of the most senior posts should be ministerial appointments.

The report also calls for a much wider recruitment pool into the civil service with all vacancies advertised openly, no discrimination in favour of internal candidates and the abolition of the grades system.
Jim Caldwell, Scottish secretary of the senior civil servants’ union the FDA, said of political appointments: “We believe the civil service that has operated over the years has been highly effective because it has not been politicised – it has been non-political throughout.

“At Westminster last year the civil service played a significant role in smoothing the way from the previous Labour Government to the new Coalition Government.

“Our view is that any politicisation of civil servants is not going to be helpful in terms of better government or for the public sector in general.”

Reform Scotland also believes there should be an end to the way many quangos are in “no man’s land” – “neither fully democratically accountable nor fully independent of government.”

The report summarises much of the work done by Reform Scotland since it was founded three years ago.

Chairman Ben Thomson said: “We need to rethink how we deliver public services and that means addressing some of the sacred cows such as how our health and education systems are structured.”