108. Special advisers are a fixture of British
political life, and offer clear benefits to Government by increasing
ministerial capacity, protecting Civil Service impartiality and
offering perspectives and insights from outside the policy machine.
109. Their position is, however, a sensitive
one, heavily dependent on trust between themselves, their ministers
and their permanent secretaries. Although they may often be relatively
young and inexperienced, special advisers are appointed to senior
roles and hold influential positions within the Whitehall structure.
They should be people of "experience and standing" who
have shown that they are also honest and trustworthy. As we have
seen, as well as benefits, special advisers have the potential
to cause significant harm if they are not chosen carefully and
properly deployed and managed.
110. For such a relationship of trust to work
between special advisers, ministers and permanent secretaries,
there must be clarity of expectations about tasks and boundaries.
Trust is built and sustained when people know and understand the
framework within which they have freedom to act, signalling to
each person that he or she is trusted to obey the rules and to
stay within the framework that limits his or her discretion.
111. Increasing prescription and regulation would
only risk undermining trust in the discretion of individuals to
act freely without an established framework. It would also tend
to generate an atmosphere of suspicion and micromanagement, rather
than creative collaboration. As the Minister said, it should not
normally be necessary to constantly monitor the way people do
their jobs, and it should be possible to trust ministers and special
advisers to understand and abide by the framework of codes and
principles within which they operate.
112. We therefore do not recommend any changes
to the existing status of special advisers, except to improve
the clarity of expectations through greater transparency around
their role, and to strengthen the accountability of ministers
for choosing advisers who are demonstrably qualified for the tasks
they are expected to perform. Recent events have demonstrated
the need for permanent secretaries to remain vigilant of the conduct
of special advisers and to be ready to advise ministers when to
intervene. We believe that our recommendations, if implemented,
would support special advisers, ministers and permanent secretaries
in understanding and complying with the various Codes of Practice.
In combination with the improved transparency and scrutiny that
we propose, this should be sufficient to allay concerns over the
activities of special advisers and help to restore public trust.
113. Effective working relationships
can only be achieved where there are high levels of trust and
mutual respect, so that all are addressing the same challenges,
sharing difficulties and concerns, and all are seeking the same
positive outcomes. This is crucial for the effective leadership
of Government. Mistrust between ministers, officials and advisers
is a failure of leadership. It destroys openness, confidence and
creativity, undermines mutual respect and divides leadership.
In turn this fosters a climate of mistrust, lack of respect and
low morale throughout the organisation they are seeking to lead.
If such mistrust develops, ministers, permanent secretaries and
advisers must work together to rebuild trust, though in the final
analysis it is for the ministers responsible to determine whatever
action is necessary to rebuild trust.
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