Government ‘not able to stop’ special advisers leaking information

August 10, 2009 at 3:11 pm Leave a comment

downingstwhitehall
A report into the leaking of information in Whitehall has accused the government of not being “able or willing” to stamp out the practice of ministerial special advisers leaking information to the press.

The Public Administration Committee has made a series of recommendations to the Civil Service in their report Leaks and Whistleblowing in Whitehall.

The MPs were highly critical of the role of special advisers, who are paid by the taxpayer but are political appointments.

According to the Cabinet Office website:

“Special Advisers are employed to help Ministers on matters where the work of Government and the work of the Government Party overlap and it would be inappropriate for permanent civil servants to become involved.

“They are an additional source for the Minister providing advice from a standpoint that is more politically committed and politically aware than would be available to a Minister from the Civil Service.”

The Public Administration Committee reported that while special advisers are, in theory, subject to the same rules regarding the disclosure of information as other civil servants, only the responsible minister has the power to discipline a special adviser for leaking information.

“In practice, this is unlikely where the adviser has been acting in what they believe to be the minister’s interests,” the committee said.

“We do not believe this is a desirable situation.

“The Civil Service Commissioners may be the appropriate body to investigate alleged breaches of this nature, possibly under the proposed power to initiate their own investigations.”

However, the committee said that the imposition of disciplinary proceedings would ultimately have to remain with the minister, meaning the investigators would only made recommendations.

“Where ministers did not act on the Commissioners’ recommendations, the Commissioners should report to Parliament.

“We believe that this would go some way to ensuring a consistent approach to leaking within government.

“However, political leaking is a problem that can only be tackled by a change in political culture.”

The government employs 74 special advisers, more than a third of them in Downing St, at a cost of nearly £6m in 2008/09.

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