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“Civil servants ‘should no longer answer to London'” – The Times

by Angus Macleod

A leading Scottish think-tank has called for Holyrood to have control over the Civil Service in Scotland, saying that such a move is the key to better government.

Reform Scotland claims, in a manifesto issued in the run-up to this year’s Scottish election campaign, that this would help promote economic prosperity and improve public services.

At present, civil servants working for the Scottish government are part of the Home Civil Service, with the same functions and rules as their conterparts in Whitehall.

The influential non-party think-tank says that the prvailing culture within the Civil Service does not encourage innovation in policy-making and that this is caused fundamentally by an absence of clear accountability.

The manifesto argues that “accountability would be enhanced if responsibilty for the Scottish Civil Service was devolved to the Scottish Parliament, with the First Minister having sole responsibilty for appointing the Permanent Secretary.”

The present Permanent Secretary to the Scottish government is Sir Peter Housden, who took over the post last year.  He was appointed last year by Sir Gus O’Donnell, the UK Cabinet Secretary, with the agreement of the First Minister, Alex Salmond.

A spokesment for the First Minister described the Reform Scotland proposal as “sensible and long-overdue”.

He said: “It makes little sense, when domestic policy in a whole range of issues is devolved to Scottish ministers and MSPs, for officials in Edinburgh to be answerable to Whitehall.  It makes even less sense at a time when more powers are coming to Scotland.”

However, Jim Caldwell, Scottish Secretary of the FDA, the senior civil servants’ union, said that any move to put the appointment of the Permanent Secretary and other top civil servants into the hands of the First Minister would give great cause for concern.

“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,” he said.

The manifesto also calls for an end to the tradition of ministerial responsibility, which it claims shields officials from taking personal responsibility for their actions and draws ministers into the process of policy delivery.

“Instead, 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,” it states.