The Tories have introduced some changes to the civil service code this week I have a feeling they rather hoped would fly under the radar. The changes mean that any civil servant who is caught speaking to the press without the written consent of a minister could face the sack. This is very bad for numerous reasons, but I’ll let Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA (the union civil servants belong to), have the first go:
“This announcement is an unnecessary, unworkable and unjustified restriction on the work of the civil service.
“Survey after survey shows that civil servants are trusted more than politicians, yet this change now requires ministerial authorisation before any civil servant – from a prosecutor being asked for comment outside of court to a job centre manager dealing with a local news story – can respond or make contact with the media.
“Guidance already exists to regulate contact between civil servants and the media. There has been no justification for this draconian change, which seems designed to intimidate civil servants into silence. This panicky last-minute decision appears to be borne out of ministerial paranoia rather than a legitimate attempt to improve public services.”
It’s not often that I agree word for word with what the head of a union has to say, but here we are. For a start, what about civil servants whose whole job involves working with the press? There is apparently no provision for this in the guidelines. Therefore, it seems that working in the press team is a one way ticket to losing your pension from now on.
That aside, this is all another missile fired in the Conservative Party’s war against the civil service. Which is bizarre when you stop and consider the fact that the whole civil service apparatus is pretty old school Tory in both nature and design. It is one of those “hallowed institutions” that are supposed to be near and dear to Tory hearts. No longer, it seems.
One of the things the political media have cordoned onto is that this will also make any sort of whistle-blowing a sackable offence. So this whole idea of Francis Maude’s goes from being silly and petty to lightly totalitarian.
I think the Tories need to stop trying to dismantle the civil service piece by piece, which this revision of the code is simply the latest round of. Guys, it’s pretty Tory friendly when you stop and think about it. They are there to make sure a radical bunch of weirdos can’t dismantle the country in the course of a parliament, amongst other things. That’s another one of those things you used to think was a good idea, back in the day.