PRCA plans to deal with adviser bullies

The PRCA is calling for a 'whistleblowers' charter' to protect civil service PROs from bullying special advisers.

Proposal: PRCA chief Ingham
Proposal: PRCA chief Ingham

In a 1,400-word response to an ongoing inquiry by the House of Lords communications committee, PRCA chief Francis Ingham argues: ‘Civil servants need to be given more support in defending their legitimate impartiality against attempts to put the governing party’s flavour on government statements.’

Ingham proposes an enhanced ‘Civil Service Code’ that would provide PR professionals with a definitive statement of their role. This would include ‘robust measures for ensuring that the de jure prohibition on special advisers

instructing civil servants is universally transformed into a de facto prohibition too’. It would also include a whistleblowers’ charter to deal with ‘extreme cases of undue pressure’.

But former Ministry of Defence head of news James Clark was sceptical about the plan. Clark, now director of comms and government relations at BearingPoint, said: ‘If a special adviser is trying to force a PRO to do the wrong thing that relationship is already broken. I have worked with numerous special advisers and they all knew where the line was, and were understanding if they needed reminding over a coffee or a beer.’

CIPR director general Colin Farrington added: ‘I am not sure the situation is so grave that anything needs to be done for now.’

The committee is looking into the success of the 2004 Phillis Review of Government communications that put forward recommendations to make Whitehall ‘open, impartial, efficient and relevant to the public’.

It will start examining evidence when Parliament returns from recess next week.

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