PASC – ‘civil servants can expose ministerial cover ups’

The Commons Public  Administration Select Committee (PASC) chaired by Tony Wright MP released a report today which looks at leaks and whistle-blowing in Whitehall, PASC argues that leaks damage trust within government.  It also suggests that the leak investigations are politically motivated, including leaks from special advisers and ministers.  The conclusion of this report is for Civil Servants to have accessible and visible measn to raise concerns about the conduct of government either internally or through an external body.  The report made the following recommendations:

  • Civil Service Commissioners should have the power to report to Parliament evidence indicating that the government was misleading parliament or the public, or the civil service had refused to act on a justified compliant.
  • Commissioners should act independently conducting investigation of confidentially breeches by special advisers if ministers do not act.
  • The leaking of information should only be a criminal act if there is a breach of the Official Secrets act or serious criminal misconduct for example bribery.
  • The cabinet office, permanent secretaries and commissioners should do more to ensure potential whistleblowers know the correct avenues to raise issues.

This inquiry was launched in the wake of the Damian Green affair involving investigation of the Sunlight Centre’s Research Director Chris Galley in November 2008.  They were both arrested but not charged following a six month long inquiry culminating in the end of Mr Galley’s civil service career.

The Sunlight Centre supports the idea of an independent body made up of Civil Service Commissioners for Civil Servants to raise issues in a safe and protected environment.  But there are still concerns about the independence of the Civil Service Commissioners – for example who will appoint them, what will be their motivations and do we really need a quango?  Also there is the issue raised by Tony Wright about reporting Special Advisers (SPADs) and Ministers particularly a very tight knit group who depend on each other.  Many people may be put off from actually reporting a minister for misleading parliament or the public as often even when they are revealed there is no real retribution apart from a resignation and often that particular minister is back in another post in several months on the back benches. 

We also feel that it should be the unions in the Civil Service (as a semi-independent body) who should be keeping potential whistle blowers informed of the correct avenues rather the cabinet office and politicised Senior Civil Service.  This is due to the fact that individual civil servants actually pay towards the upkeep of union branches rather than the large centralised staff welfare services run by the civil service.

Mr Galley himself has stated that if a structure had existed at the time that he observed malpractice occuring at the Home Office the Civil Service Commissioners would have been his been his first port of call.  Mr Galley would consider his actions as a ‘whistleblower’ to a public service and in the public’s interest rather than the allegations recently that the leaks were politically motivated.

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