Pre-election period advice: letter to the First Minister

Following publication of the UK General Election 2024: guidance for civil servants, the Permanent Secretary has provided advice to the First Minister on planned Government business during the pre-election period.

From: John-Paul Marks, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government
To: First Minister, John Swinney

Dear First Minister,

On Thursday 23 May the UK Government confirmed the pre-election period would take effect from 00:01, 25 May 2024; with the election to follow on 4 July.   

This letter provides advice about the support you can expect from Civil Servants working for the Scottish Government during the pre-election period. It is based on Scottish Government guidance, which takes into account the published  UK General Election guidance   

Consistent with the Scottish Civil Service Code and the published guidance, Civil Servants should sustain the proper functioning of the current Government and delivery of essential business; continuing to uphold the highest standards of propriety, integrity and impartiality in this pre-election period. This is part of the usual arrangements to provide assurance that as Ministers you are operating consistently with the appropriate guidance, and I can confirm this is the approach being taken across all Four Nations.   

I consider there to be a clear case for deferral of strategic policies due to be published in the pre-election period, given this could influence the General Election.     

Firstly, the planned publication of your Programme for Government and associated legislative programme, scheduled for week commencing 10 June. Publication risks influencing the outcome of the UK General Election, in setting out a new programme on a range of matters including those where there are reserved or cross border implications. Officials will, of course, continue to deliver Ministers' priorities throughout this period. Officials will also support you and your Cabinet to bring forward your Programme for Government at the earliest opportunity following the UK General Election.    

Secondly, the planned publication of theMedium-Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) and associated documents, scheduled for 20 June. In line with the guidance, the MTFS should not be published during the pre-election period and the Scottish Fiscal Commission agrees that publication of their economic and fiscal forecasts should be deferred. Publication on a revised timeline will allow the Scottish Government to respond to new fiscal positions from an incoming UK Government. These could be material to the MTFS.     

Thirdly, the remaining papers scheduled in theBuilding a New Scotland (BaNS) series. I consider that this publication should be paused during the pre-election period, given the guidance.   

Finally, theEnergy Strategy and Just Transition Plan and Oil and Gas Policy publications, as raised at First Minister’s Questions. The publication of a new Government Energy Strategy and position on oil and gas, as a reserved policy, with cross-border and local implications in this General Election, should not take place during the pre-election period. The work is ready to come to Cabinet for collective agreement; and the team will advise you and the Cabinet Secretary with options for updating Parliament, for publication to follow thereafter as you prefer.   

Further to the above, I can confirm that essential Government business should and will continue, ensuring Civil Servants deliver on your Government’s priorities consistent with the pre-election guidance. This includes progressing legislation already introduced to the Scottish Parliament, and legislation which the Scottish Government has already announced it intends to bring forward. Parliamentary business will continue as planned, and the Civil Service will continue to provide briefings and advice to Ministers for PQs, correspondence, visits, statements and debates each week.   

Grant payments and contracts can continue, taking care to avoid new local announcements which could influence the General Election, with advice available for portfolios from the Cabinet Secretariat as required.   

As agreed, the guidance has been circulated to Cabinet; and Ministers will be advised accordingly throughout the pre-election period, supported by the Cabinet Secretariat.    

I would be happy to meet to discuss this advice further if helpful. 

Best wishes,

JP Marks
Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government


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