Letter: Civil servants should not become political scapegoats

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Sir: In your leading article ('Clear accountability', 11 March) you ask who can believe that a minister can have any influence over the choice of a software package for the ambulance service. Although my Civil Service career never brought me into this particular field, I can call to mind several occasions in my own experience when ministers have interfered at a comparable level of detail.

Not all our ills arise from bad advice given by civil servants to ministers; some arise from ministers refusing to accept good advice, or from committing themselves to a course of action without even seeking advice.

Under existing secrecy laws, civil servants are not free to disclose such embarrassing truths. Unless they are wholly free to defend themselves, Civil Service accountability may just be one more step down the road to ministerial non-accountability - a road down which we have already gone far too far.

Yours faithfully,


London, NW3

The writer is a former under-secretary, HM Customs and Excise.