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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 July 2007, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
MSPs hit out at top civil servant
Sir John Elvidge
Sir John Elvidge (centre) says the SNP win has led to changes
Scotland's top civil servant has been criticised by MSPs after he claimed the SNP's election victory opened a gulf between London and Edinburgh officials.

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats hit out at Sir John Elvidge, who said contacts between civil servants had become more formal.

Sir John added that he no longer expected London officials to talk "freely" with Holyrood civil servants.

He added that future discourse would be conducted in a more "formal way".

The SNP's election manifesto commits the party to seeking early talks on the creation of "a wholly devolved Scottish civil service," along the same lines as the Northern Ireland civil service.

'Extremely concerning'

The issue prompted opposition members to warn Sir John, the permanent secretary to the Scottish government, about the dangers of being seen to advocate such a move.

Conservative deputy leader Murdo Fraser said that constitutional discussion should be left to politicians and not civil servants.

He said: "The fact that Labour is no longer in power in both parliaments does not diminish the need for close cooperation between the two - indeed, it increases the need.

"I am concerned at Sir John's claim that relations between civil servants in Edinburgh and London has changed."

I find it extraordinary that an important move like this should in effect be announced in the form of an interview by Sir John Elvidge during the summer recess
Robert Brown
Liberal democrat MSP

Labour's finance spokesperson, Wendy Alexander, said a close working relationship between the civil service in Scotland and Whitehall brought practical benefits.

"It would be extremely concerning if we found ourselves in a position where Scottish taxpayers were paying more to replicate work undertaken in the UK civil service, or the Scottish government could no longer draw on the experience of Whitehall counterparts.

"It would also be inappropriate to pursue these sensitive matters without first informing parliament." She said.

Liberal Democrat policy convener Robert Brown said he planned to seek "urgent" clarification from Sir John.

"I find it extraordinary that an important move like this, to create a separate Scottish Civil Service, should in effect be announced in the form of an interview by Sir John Elvidge during the summer recess," he said.

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