Officials' anger at Scott duties

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Indy Politics
Civil servants were upset at being required to draft inaccurate Government press releases saying it had been cleared by the Scott arms-to-Iraq report, MPs were told yesterday.

Liz Symons, general secretary of the First Division Association, the trade union for senior Whitehall officials, said her members had "expressed disquiet with the way in which press notices were drafted on the day of publication of the Scott inquiry report".

Ms Symons was giving evidence to the Public Service Select Committee, at the first session of its own inquiry into Scott. Asked if civil servants had been asked to go beyond their statutory duties, she referred the committee to the Government's press pack released to coincide with the Scott report.

Once the Opposition had time to digest the report, they seized on the pack, claiming it did not reflect the inquiry's findings and was an example of civil service politicisation. The FDA confirmed that was the case yesterday. However, the union stressed that no formal complaints had been made by its members - possibly because Government information officers who co-ordinated the exercise do not come within its remit.

Union officials told MPs they had still not received assurances that no civil servants will be disciplined over Scott. Despite ministers having absolved themselves of any blame, Ms Symons said the Government was refusing to rule out action against those officials criticised.

The FDa admitted the Scott report had forced its members to think hard about issues of responsibility and accountability and the duty to serve the public interest. Ms Symons said she thought there was now a need for a Civil Service Act setting out officials' duties.

She was less sure, though, as to what exactly the new legislation would contain. It would be discussed at her union's forthcoming conference.