Francis Maude has today revealed how special advisers to government ministers have been abusing their position by commissioning civil servants to produce work explicitly for the purpose of attacking the Conservative Party.
Click here to download some of the evidence he has uncovered through the use of Freedom of Information requests.
Mr Maude has written to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, outlining what he has uncovered and demanding "swift action" with a view to initiating disciplinary proceedings against those responsible. Here is what he says in the letter:
"The Special Adviser’s Code of Conduct clearly states that Special Advisers “must not: … ask civil servants to do anything which is inconsistent with their obligations under the Civil Service Code” and that they “should avoid anything which might reasonably lead to the criticism that people paid from public funds are being used for party political purpose”.
"Despite this guidance, it is apparent that Labour has once again compromised the impartiality of the Civil Service and used the taxpayer funded service for political attacks.
"On 4th January 2010, the Labour Party kicked off their general election campaign with a 148 page report on Conservative spending plans. It stated: “the Labour Party is today publishing a factual account of the cost of a Conservative government based on the Conservative Party’s own figures and analysis from publicly available figures, such as costings from HM Treasury” (Labour Party, Conservative Tax and Spending Promises). A new Freedom of Information Act request (HM Treasury, Ref: 10/03) has revealed the background to the production of these opposition costings; despite requiring independent civil servants to undertake the work, they were commissioned by Special Advisers to attack the Conservative Party. Although most of the names of the Special Advisers were removed from the Freedom of Information Act request, Treasury Special Adviser, Sam White, is named.
"Opposition costings are not new. However, crucially, the Freedom of Information Act documents show that the requests were not made to inform Ministers about the merits or demerits of a particular policy proposal, nor to help Ministers respond to an Opposition Day Debate in Parliament (where the use of the Civil Service could be justified). Instead, they were used to help the Labour with rebuttal attacks on the Conservative Party in the media. For example, the costings of the Conservative Party’s council tax freeze policy was commissioned on 20th November 2009. This is despite the policy being announced in September 2008, and there being several Parliamentary debates on council tax since. Those costings were subsequently deployed for the first time in the Labour Party dossier of 4th January 2010.
"It is absolutely essential that the integrity and impartiality of the Civil Service are not compromised and taxpayers’ money is not used for party political purposes. Public confidence in Special Advisers was severely shaken by the Damian McBride incident and it is imperative that Special Advisers adhere to the Code of Conduct clearly set out for them. I would urge you to take swift action to address this issue and ensure that these breaches of the Code of Conduct are addressed, with a view to potential disciplinary proceedings being initiated against these Special Advisers who have broken the Code."
Is it too much to hope that action will be taken?