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By convention, opposition parties are entitled to enter into confidential discussions with senior civil servants in the run-up to a general election. Such discussions must be sanctioned by the Prime Minister of the day. They are intended primarily to allow opposition spokespersons to familiarise themselves with aspects of departmental organisation, and to inform civil servants of likely changes to the machinery of government in the event of a change of government.

In April 2014, it became known that the current Prime Minister had written to the Leader of the Opposition to inform him that pre-election contacts between the opposition and the Civil Service would be authorised from October 2014, 6 months prior to the May 2015 general election This note outlines the current arrangements and also provides a brief history of the convention. It notes recommendations for change from the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee and the Institute for Government, made in May 2014.

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