IfG statement on HM Treasury letter to Chancellor

On 13 February HM Treasury published a letter from Permanent Secretary Sir Nicholas MacPherson to the Chancellor, advising him against entering into a currency union with an independent Scotland. The publication of personal advice from a Permanent Secretary to a Minister is highly unusual.

Director of the Institute for Government, Peter Riddell, said:

“There are good arguments for making civil service advice public - where it does not inhibit frank discussion with ministers. It can help policy making and improve understanding and trust in the decisions government makes.

“However, it is highly unusual to see a permanent secretary’s personal advice to a minister published, especially in the midst of a major national political debate. Such advice is currently exempt from FOI. Historically civil servants are kept out of the limelight to protect them from accusations of political bias. This may be a well thought through departure from the usual rules, in which case the civil service, parliament and public need to be informed at the earliest opportunity as to how the new system will operate. The concern is that this was a hasty decision that will have unintended consequences for advice given to ministers on future major issues - including referendums.”