No Bullying on front of a stop sign

What has happened to Ministerial Accountability?

The Prime Minister’s dismissal of the findings of the independent review of Priti Patel’s behaviour in the work place sets a dangerous precedent for Government relationships with the Civil Service but is also one in what is becoming a pattern of incidents where Ministers fail to be held accountable and resign when in past administrations they would have done so. To name some examples: Robert Jenrick and the £40 million Housing scandal linked to former Tory donor, Richard Desmond, as well as the queries raised over preferences given in the new Towns Fund; Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson and the A level and GCSE results mismanagement (not to mention the breaking of lockdown rules by the Prime Minister’s own adviser). 

Any system which allows independent review findings to be ignored and allows a partisan power the final say, surely needs reform. To counter, as some have done, that “advisers advise and ministers decide”, is not an argument as this applies to individual advisers to individual ministers, whereas a fully appointed independent review is an entirely different arrangement (cf. the Independent Review that has decreed an increase in MP’s pay this year, which Government cannot over rule, other than individuals choosing to give the increase to Charities – it would be interesting to see how many do so).

The Prime Minister’s actions in ignoring the Independent Review on bullying in the Civil Service should be closely scrutinised, and the system reformed, on the following grounds, especially after the Cummings debacle, for the precedent set and the more far reaching consequences that will result:

  1. If the independent review finds Ms Patel guilty of bullying, a less than independent colleague with political vested interests should not be the final arbiter.
  2. Most worrying is the more wide ranging repercussions which go beyond the individuals involved, so that this is now a dangerous precedent:  Civil Servants are less likely to be honest with Ministers for fear of being bullied where  recourse to protection from Ministerial bullies has now thereby been removed. This will mean Ministers may no longer receive the best advice in the interests of the country.
  3. Ministers holding the highest offices in the land should be held to the highest standards. There are many in public service eg teaching, who have lost their jobs for such behaviour.
  4. The Minister’s defence that it was unintentional does not stand in law. Additionally, her lack of self awareness in this respect shows a worrying deficiency which gives rise to questions of her competence. 
  5. Admittedly the Home Secretary has a challenging job and may well have met resistance but so do many others and they do not resort to bullying. It again begs the question as to whether she resorted to bullying because of her own inability to manage her staff and department.
  6. Bullying is never acceptable in the workplace, as the PM’s foreword to the ministerial code made clear, and bullying of junior staff, where the power balance was unequal, is even more reprehensible.
  7. Finally, and most tellingly, anyone found guilty of breaching the ministerial code has always resigned.

I would urge any concerned members of the public who wish the integrity of our Ministers to be retained to write to their MPs on this important issue. The email for Sevenoaks Constituency MP Laura Trott is laura.trott.mp@parliament.uk

If you live in another constituency you can find your MP’s contact details by entering your postal code on the link here: Find Your MP

If you are experiencing bullying and harassment in the workplace and are seeking the following link can point you in the right direction. Help With Workplace Bullying

Cheryl Johnson
Swanley & District Labour Party Executive Officer

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