Scottish Ministerial Code 2016 edition

Code of conduct and guidance on procedures for Cabinet Secretaries, Ministers and Law Officers.

6. Ministers and Civil Servants

General Principle

6.1 Ministers must uphold the political impartiality of the Civil Service, and not ask civil servants to act in any way which would conflict with the Civil Service Code [14] and the requirements of the Constitutional Reform and Civil Governance Act 2010. [15]

Ministers and the Civil Service

6.2 Ministers have a duty to:

(a) Give fair consideration and due weight to informed and impartial advice from civil servants, as well as to other considerations and advice in reaching policy decisions;

(b) Uphold the political impartiality of the Civil Service, and not to ask civil servants to act in any way which would conflict with the Civil Service Code;

(c) Ensure that influence over appointments is not abused for partisan purposes; and

(d) Observe the obligations of a good employer with regard to the terms and conditions of those who serve them.

6.3 Ministers should not ask civil servants to engage in activities likely to call into question their political impartiality or to give rise to the criticism that official resources are being used for party political purposes.

The Role of the Accountable Officer

6.4 The Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000 [16] makes provision for the appointment of the Permanent Secretary as Principal Accountable Officer ( PAO) for the Scottish Administration and specifies the Permanent Secretary's functions in this capacity. These include designating Accountable Officers for such parts of the Scottish Administration as the Permanent Secretary may specify and for certain other bodies, the accounts of which are required by statute to be audited by or under the control of the Auditor General for Scotland.

6.5 The essence of the Accountable Officer's role is a personal responsibility for the propriety and regularity of the public finances for which he or she has stewardship and ensuring the economic, efficient and effective use of resources. Accountable Officers are personally answerable to the Public Audit Committee of the Parliament on these matters within the framework of Ministerial accountability to the Parliament. The PAO has overall responsibility for these matters with regard to the Government, but would normally only be expected to answer personally to the Public Audit Committee on issues affecting the Government as a whole.

6.6 Accountable Officers have a particular responsibility to see that appropriate advice is tendered to Ministers on all matters of financial propriety and regularity and on the economic, efficient and effective use of resources. If Ministers are contemplating a course of action which the Accountable Officer considers would breach the requirements of financial regularity or propriety, the Accountable Officer must set out in writing his or her objection to the proposal, the reasons for the objection and his or her duty to inform the Auditor General for Scotland should the advice be overruled.

6.7 If Ministers decide nonetheless to proceed, the Accountable Officer must seek written authority to take the action in question and must send the relevant papers to the Auditor General for Scotland and to the Clerk to the Public Audit Committee as soon as possible. The same procedure applies where the Accountable Officer considers that Ministers are contemplating a course of action which he or she could not defend as representing value for money within a framework of Best Value. The procedure enables the Public Audit Committee to see that the Accountable Officer does not bear personal responsibility for the actions concerned.

6.8 The role of Accountable Officers is described in greater detail in the Memorandum to Accountable Officers published in the Scottish Public Finance Manual. [17]

Civil Servants and Party Conferences

6.9 Ministers should not ask civil servants to attend or take part in party conferences or meetings of party policy or subject groups. It is an established principle in the public service that civil servants in their official capacity should not accept invitations to conferences convened by, or under the aegis of, party political organisations. The situation is, of course, different when Ministers require officials to be in attendance at party political events in order to enable the Minister to carry out urgent official business unconnected with the event. An exception to this rule is made for Special Advisers who, under the terms of their contracts, may attend party functions, including annual party conferences (but they may not speak publicly at the conference) and maintain contact with party members. Further guidance is available from the Cabinet Office. [18]

6.10 If a Minister wishes to have a brief for a party political occasion to explain Government policies or actions, there is no reason why this should not be provided. It cannot however contain material which could be construed as designed to promote one party's line or to anticipate criticisms from other parties.


Email: Robin Benn,

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