The parliamentary spending watchdog has demanded answers about the settlement awarded to former Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam.
In a letter to home secretary Priti Patel, Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier said MPs wanted to know why the government chose to award Rutnam, who launched a constructive dismissal case last year, a settlement rather than going to court.
She said the government should explain its decision, given that the maximum award by a tribunal is capped at “well below” the £340,000 figure reportedly awarded to the ex-official.
Rutnam launched the legal action after a dramatic resignation last February, which was launched to bullying allegations against Patel.
Rutnam said he did not believe assurances that Patel was not behind briefings against him in the press that suggested he had leaked information or briefed against her, and that she had refused to modify her behaviour after reports she had bullied staff.
An investigation overseen by ministerial standards adviser Sir Alex Allan last year found evidence Patel had bullied staff, but the prime minister, Boris Johnson, said she had not broken the ministerial code and declined to take action.
Rutnam was awarded an out-of-court settlement in March this year. The Home Office said at the time Rutnam and the government had "jointly concluded that it is in both parties' best interests to reach a settlement at this stage".
In her letter, Hiller asked Patel to clarify “whether the reference in your department’s statement to ‘best interests’ means that a settlement was viewed as more beneficial than the risks of going ahead with a trial”.
She also demanded to know whether the settlement was only made because of a Treasury U-turn on regulations that would have capped civil service exit payments at £95,000.
And she asked whether the settlement contains a confidentiality clause.
Hillier asked for a reply to her letter by 27 April, which she said would be published “together with this letter on its website”.
Now that the deadline has passed, PAC has published Hillier’s letter without a response.
The letter has been published after the High Court agreed to examine whether the PM was wrong to decide that home secretary Patel’s harassment of staff did not break the ministerial code – despite his standards adviser concluding it did.