Anonymity of civil servants

The convention of ministerial responsibility requires that ministers, not civil servants, accept responsibility to Parliament for their actions and those of their departments.

The concept of civil service anonymity is linked with the concepts of permanence and neutrality:

· civil servants are likely to have to give advice to governments of different parties which may have significantly different attitudes to policy

· they need to be able to give this advice to ministers freely and without fear of any adverse public or political reactions and without fear of damage to their future careers.

In recent years, this anonymity has begun to be eroded:

· the level of media interest in government affairs tends to identify individual senior civil servants

· Select Committees, which scrutinise the activities of government departments, frequently question civil servants about the advice they give to ministers

· ministers are increasingly willing to “name and blame” civil servants rather than accept individual responsibility for the actions of their departments

· the chief executives of the increasing numbers of executive agencies are generally public figures.

Some examples of civil servants whose names have been brought into the public arena:

· the civil servant who released a private letter criticising Michael Heseltine during the Westland affair (1986) was Colette Bowe

· Bernard Ingham, Mrs Thatcher’s Press Secretary, became very well known for his “off the record” briefings

· Alistair Campbell is currently well known as the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman

· Derek Lewis, the head of Prisons Agency, was sacked by Michael Howard.