Civil Service impartiality and referendums: call for evidence

14 February 2014

The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) is carrying out an inquiry into the impartiality of the Civil Service, and compliance with the Civil Service Code, in relation to the independence referendum in Scotland.

In evidence to PASC in 2013 the Scottish Government Permanent Secretary cited the “two-fold” responsibilities of civil servants in Scotland:

  • “to deliver the policies of the elected Government of Scotland, which includes delivering the current Scottish Government’s Purpose of creating a more successful country by increasing sustainable economic growth with an opportunity for all of Scotland to flourish; and
  • to act with integrity, impartiality, objectivity and honesty”.

This inquiry will consider the challenges facing civil servants in Scotland in meeting these two-fold responsibilities in the run-up to the referendum on Scottish independence, and the impact on the UK Civil Service as a whole.

Scope of the inquiry 

  • consider the dual obligations of civil servants in the Scottish government to their ministers and to the UK Civil Service as a whole
  • explore what “impartiality and objectivity” mean in practice for civil servants working on the referendum on independence
  • examine how the Civil Service Code will be enforced, and complaints of alleged breaches of the code examined
  • scrutinise the leadership of the Civil Service in relation to the referendum on independence
  • consider what lessons the Civil Service can take from the referendum on independence when planning for any future referendums

This inquiry will build on past work by PASC on the issue of impartiality and neutrality in the Civil Service. The Committee’s September 2013 “Truth to Power” report concluded that a “politically impartial Civil Service [...] remains the most effective way of supporting the democratically elected Government and future administrations in the UK and of maintaining the stability of the UK’s largely uncodified constitution”. This inquiry will also continue the Committee’s on-going consideration of the quality of leadership within the Civil Service.

The Twitter hashtag for this inquiry will be #CSScotland.

The Committee would like to hear views on:

  • The impact of the referendum on Scottish independence on the UK Civil Service
  • Public trust in the impartiality and neutrality of civil servants working on the Scottish referendum
  • The advice paper “Approaching the Referendum - Supporting Ministers in Scotland - Good Practice Advice in the Run-Up to the Referendum on Independence” provided for civil servants
  • The role of the Civil Service in the preparation of “Scotland’s Future” document, published by the Scottish Government in November 2013
  • The arrangements for investigating alleged breaches of the Civil Service Code in relation to the referendum on independence
  • The approach taken by ministers and permanent secretaries in leading the Civil Service, and ensuring compliance with the Civil Service Code, ahead of the referendum on Scottish independence
  • The role of the Head of the Civil Service and Cabinet Secretary ahead of the referendum on independence
  • Examples of good practice in identifying and managing risks to Civil Service impartiality and objectivity in Scotland and in the wider UK Civil Service
  • Lessons relating to impartiality and objectivity the Civil Service can take for any future referendums

The Committee would also welcome views on any other matters that may be relevant to this inquiry. Please do not feel obliged to respond to all of the questions if you have a specific interest.

How to respond

Please submit your response by no later than midday on Friday 4 April 2014.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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