If a civil servant gets it wrong, their department takes action under fair processes in private, not in the public glare. This is no different to any other employer.


Accountability in public service

We believe that civil servants are accountable for their direct actions, and ministers are accountable to Parliament and the public for the work of their departments.  This is how the lines are drawn within the constitution and in the Civil Service Code. 

But in recent years there has been pressure to extend the accountability of civil servants to Parliament and the media.  So where should accountability for civil servants begin and that for ministers end?

We welcome debate about whether the interface between civil servant and minister - a boundary that is as complex and nuanced as it is variable by relationship - can be clarified.  

Accountability - the issue

The issue of accountability in the civil service has arisen in the past, particularly in relation to data processing delays in the Home Office in 2006, and at HMRC, where chairman Paul Gray resigned in response to the loss of data in 2007. 

Both cases made the headlines, but were very different in nature and accountability. In the latter, Paul Gray took responsibility for a clear operational failure within HMRC. 

At the Home Office, blame was cast on the civil service despite the fact that resource, policy and systemic weaknesses were at fault. 

At the time, former FDA general secretary Jonathan Baume rightly defended the civil service and called the blame game an "attempt to shift responsibility for struggling policies from ministers to their staff".

"The civil service must take it on the chin when it fails, and some criticism is justified. Nor should we shy away from debate on difficult issues. But creating scapegoats when a wider problem emerges is no solution. It only erodes credibility of the workings of government and destroys morale."