Tuesday 10 March 2020: Extract summary: In a Scottish context: Constitutional Affairs: The Roles and responsibilities of the Cabinet Secretary and the Cabinet Office.
Q: If the Permanent Secretary, is concerned about a ministerial decision they can ask for a written ministerial direction but what course of action is open if the Permanent Secretary is unhappy with the conduct or behaviour of the first Minster?
A: It would depend how serious those concerns are. I would normally expect the Permanent Secretary and the First Minister to make their best endeavours to work effectively together to lead in partnership. If there are tensions one would normally expect those to be resolved between them, in private if they possibly can. If for some reason they were not able to do so, I might be asked to become involved. It is only in very rare cases that one would expect that to be the case. Generally these relationships are good. They are often challenging. They are conducted with candour and courtesy in private. It is that partnership that means that Ministers can ensure the Civil Service is delivering its priorities.
Q: What is the role of the Cabinet Secretary in dealing with such issues.
A: If a difficulty arises it is important to restore harmony. It is to try to ensure that the relationship is productive. Obviously if there are concerns, if a First Mninster has concerns about the effectiveness of the top team, whether the Department is in the right shape, again I would expect the Permanent Secretary to try to resolve
those and ensure that the Department is running the way the First Minister wants the Department to run. My role, if there were a point of tension, would be to try to address any concerns and help the two of them work through those together. Of course, if that is not possible, we would have to consider alternative courses of action.
Q: In your endeavours to restore harmony in a St Francis of Assisi way, there is no formal process, is there?
A: There is not a formal process unless an issue has become formal because there are formal complaints about behaviour and so on. As in any big organisation, the process is essentially to try to ensure that the top team, political and professional, are working effectively together and that the professional Civil Service is delivering to the expectations of the agenda of Ministers.
Q: Further on that, what is formal process?
A: For example, if there were a complaint about conduct against an official, a special adviser, a Minister, by anyone, that complaint would be investigated, just as it is in any big organisation if it were about bullying or harassment or discrimination or behaviour, and the appropriate action taken. The appropriate action will often simply be some kind of behavioural intervention, giving someone some advice or coaching on the impact they might be having on others. Obviously, if it is more serious and there is a matter of conduct, whether that is by an official or a special adviser or Minister, there are formal processes set out in the codes that we would follow. Those would only be in the rarest and most difficult cases, obviously.
Q: How does it work in relation to the Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government because he/she is responsible to the first Minister of Scotland?
A: Essentially the process is the same. The difference is that it is the First Minister of the Scottish Government who makes the final decision as opposed to the Prime Minister. The process and the relationship between me and them, I am still the accounting officer, for the First Minister and the Permanent Secretary so the First Minister in those circumstances is playing both the role of the Secretary of State and taking the final decision that the Prime Minister would take in the other jobs.
Q: For clarity, you are the line manager of the Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government.
Q: How does that work in the context of the Scottish Government, for example, pursuing diametrically opposed policies and positions from the UK Government? How can you appraise the Permanent Secretary on that basis for carrying out policies and positions that are contrary to the ones that you have been instructed to carry out on behalf
of the UK Government?
A: It is a great question. The job is to carry out the policies of whichever Government you are working for. If the general election result had gone the other way, we would be carrying out a very different programme from the one that we are carrying out now, and that is the job of the permanent Civil Service. My job is to make a professional assessment of the professional performance of the Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government in pursuing the policies of the Government, ensuring that we are operating in the most collaborative way that we can and assessing their contribution as senior leaders in the broader Civil Service.
Q: With the Scottish service, say a relationship difficulty occurred that was similar to the harassment relationship that has been alleged in the Home Department with the Home Secretary would the Permanent Secretary report to the Cabinet Secretary? Say if the First Minister of Scotland was misbehaving in any particular way?
A: Essentially exactly the same principles and so on would apply. In the end, as I said, one would always hope that it was possible for these things to be resolved between the Permanent Secretary and their responsible Minister, whether it was the First Minister of Scotland or, as you say, in that hypothetical example, but if necessary the Cabinet Secretary would become involved.
Q: In the recent or longer past, has a Permanent Secretary in Scotland had to report any misbehaviours of their First Minister to you?
A: You will understand, particularly in the light of events this week in the Scottish courts, I have to be very, very careful. All I can say is that the Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government certainly in my time and, as I understand, her predecessors and mine have applied exactly the same system that I described to you.