The RSS welcomes new guidance around the conduct of civil servants in the pre-election period (also known as 'purdah') which now clarifies that this should not restrict commentary from independent sources such as academics.
The clarification is made in the following new paragraph:
'The principles set out here are not about restricting commentary from independent sources, for example academics. It is for individual public bodies to apply this pre-election guidance within their own organisations, but in doing so they should not go beyond the principles set out in this document.'
The clarification was asked for in a Science Media Centre letter sent in May 2017 to the head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, which was co-signed by the RSS on behalf of fellows. Since then, the RSS has worked to the issue in people's minds by organising a roundtable discussion on the subject with the Institute for Government for key civil servants, after concerns had been expressed by RSS fellows and others about how purdah had operated during the 2017 General Election campaign.
RSS executive director Hetan Shah set out the reasons why the clarification was needed in a Civil Service World article, published in November last year. He also met with Caroline Nokes, the then Minister at the Cabinet Office, and again put the case for reform in a letter to the newly appointed Minister for the Cabinet Office, David Lidington, earlier this year.
'We are very pleased to see this update to the pre-election "purdah" guidance to indicate it is not about restricting independent commentary,' he said. 'The RSS and several other bodies in the scientific community, notably the Science Media Centre, pushed for these changes, and we are now asking UK Research and Innovation to alert research councils to this change in the guidance.'