Less accountability for special advisers

The Prime Minister has surreptitiously changed the law governing Special Advisors giving them greater power to instruct civil servants.

The legislation – the Civil Service Order in Council – was amended on the 22nd June by the Privy Council but no statement to Parliament or public announcement has yet been made by the Government. This prompted Sir Alistair Graham, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Standards in Public Life to issue a scathing statement against the Government:

I am very disappointed that the Government has chosen to make changes to the legislation governing the role of Special Advisers using prerogative powers without any proper parliamentary and public debate on an issue which has been of clear concern to the public, parliament and media for some time. On this important constitutional matter, not only has the Government not consulted Parliament, it has chosen not to tell them about the changes. Even if the intention is not to extend special advisers’ powers, the manner in which the changes have been made could lead to this very perception and consequently a loss of trust in the machinery of Government.

Special Advisers are often better known as ‘spin doctors’ as they work solely for a particular minister and do not have to sign up to the Civil Service Code that requires impartiality. Their power can be immense as seen by the activities of the PM‘s former adviser Alistair Campbell, so it is important that they account for themselves to the public. Instead, they are being given more power and made less accountable! This is a dangerous combination that will further erode the public’s trust in government.

There is also an article about this change in today’s Guardian.

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