A major role of the TaxPayers' Alliance is scrutinising the Government and the public sector to make sure taxpayers' money is spent properly and is not being abused and wasted. We regularly write to Ministers and public officials to enquire about different programmes and activities. One particularly brazen example of the abuse of public money has come to our attention - and we have written today to Sir Gus O'Donell, the Cabinet Secretary, and Sir Leigh Lewis, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Work and Pensions, to complain.
A press release [enclosed in full at the foot of this page] emerged from the Department of Work and Pensions yesterday that promises more grief for beleaguered Work and Pensions Minister Peter Hain, who has already been branded "incompetent" by the Prime Minister. Special Advisers in his department have been caught red-handed breaking the rules on ethics and propriety and abusing their position to use civil service resources for the purposes of partisan political campaigning.
At 10.21am on Tuesday 15th January a Special Adviser in the DWP used their departmental email address to issue a press release entitled "TORIES AIM TO DESTROY FINAL SALARY PENSION SCHEMES", a diatribe accusing the Opposition of setting out to "destroy the best pension schemes in Britain" and telling the electorate:
"if you are in a final salary pension scheme, don't ever vote Tory or they would destroy it."
Setting aside the unwise commitment of the Government to unsustainable final salary pensions, this is a shocking email.
SpAds are expressly forbidden by the Code of Conduct from using their position for party political campaigning:
6. Special advisers should not use official resources for party political activity. They are employed to serve the objectives of the Government and the Department in which they work. It is this which justifies their being paid from public funds and being able to use public resources, and explains why their participation in party politics is carefully limited. They should act in a way which upholds the political impartiality of civil servants and does not conflict with the Civil Service Code. They should avoid anything which might reasonably lead to the criticism that people paid from public funds are being used for party political purposes.
And if that wasn't clear enough it is restated later:
10. Special advisers are able to represent Ministers' views on Government policy to the media with a degree of political commitment that would not be possible for the permanent Civil Service. Briefing on purely party political matters must be handled by the Party machine.
This press release is clearly not "representing Ministers' views on Government policy" - its topic is a Minister's view on Conservative policy laid out in a speech by David Cameron. The whole document focuses on attacking the policies of the Opposition, even mentioning the Opposition 10 times in 13 sentences.
If the DWP's Ministers want to campaign against Tory policies and instruct voters how to vote at the next general election, they have to use Labour Party resources to do it. Taxpayers do not want to pay for political parties' election campaigning - and yet this press release makes no attempt to hide that it does just that. It is a barefaced abuse of taxpayers' money to persuade people how to vote in an election based on criticising Opposition policy - not something SpAds, Civil Servants or anyone else on the public payroll should be doing.
DWP PRESS RELEASE
From: Special-Advisers DWP [mailto:Special-Advisers@dwp.gsi.gov.uk]
Sent: 15 January 2008 10:21
To: MOS-PR DWP
Subject: RE: FOR IMMEDIATE USE: Tories aim to destroy final salary pension schemes
FOR IMMEDIATE USE
TORIES AIM TO DESTROY FINAL SALARY PENSION SCHEMES
Commenting on yesterday's proposals by David Cameron to close public service final salary pension schemes – not just the scheme for MPs – Pensions Minister Mike O'Brien QC MP said:
"The Conservative Party plans to get rid of public sector
final salary pensions, thereby destroying the best pension schemes in Britain.
"This would send a signal to the employers of hundreds of thousands of workers who remain in final salary pension schemes that the Conservatives don't care about them and are prepared to reduce their income in retirement.
"This should serve as a warning: if you are in a final salary pension scheme, don't ever vote Tory or they would destroy it.
"Although the numbers in final salary schemes have declined from 8 million in the 1960s to around 3 million now, many workers in the private sector remain in final salary schemes.
"In the 1980s, the Tories allowed employers pension contribution holidays and there were mis-selling scandals, and these resulted in deficits. Many employers left the schemes to avoid those deficits.
"In the new Pensions Bill, Labour has just introduced deregulatory measures to encourage employers to remain in these gold-standard schemes. Only a few weeks ago, the Tories claimed to welcome these, and wanted us to go further to keep defined benefit schemes.
"Mr Cameron's announcement that they plan to end final salary schemes for public sector workers sends the wrong signal. It shows they have learnt nothing from the mistakes of the last Tory government.
"The Tories have understood nothing and learnt nothing about pensions."
For further information, please call DWP Special Advisers on 020 3267 XXXX