Alok Sharma denies bullying civil servants

Sharma refutes allegations he was “difficult, unpredictable and quick to lose his temper” as Cop26 president
Photo: WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto

Alok Sharma has denied bullying civil servants while he was business secretary and Cop26 president after he was accused of being “difficult, unpredictable and quick to lose his temper”.

This weekend, Bloomberg reported allegations that Sharma, who was a cabinet minister from 2019 to 2022, had berated and sworn at staff and reduced one junior official to tears.

Staff allegedly raised concerns with civil service leadership about Sharma’s behaviour on at least four occasions in 2020, but did not make any formal complaints.

Sharma was appointed business secretary and Cop26 president in February 2020, giving up the business brief just under a year later. He was previously international development secretary and an employment minister before that.

The outlet spoke to four officials, two of whom said his behaviour at the height of the Covid pandemic amounted to bullying.

They alleged that Sharma would “use profanity” and “insult staff’s work”, and would make unscheduled Microsoft Teams calls to junior staff who were working remotely to criticise their work.

One of the sources said they had relied on antidepressants and mental-health support to cope with the pressure of working under the minister.

Responding to the allegations, Sharma told Bloomberg: “I have never been made aware of any ‘informal complaints’ or otherwise from staff. The Cabinet Office has confirmed that there are no records of any informal or formal complaints across government about me. I refute strongly these allegations.

“I have worked with hundreds of officials as a government minister and always felt I maintained a good relationship with them, exemplified by seven of my [Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] private office team, those officials working most closely with me, choosing to join my [Cop26] private office alongside those I had worked with in previous ministerial roles.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have no records of any complaints.”

The reports come amid close scrutiny of the way the government deals with reports of poor behaviour by ministers.

There is no independent process for weighing up potential breaches of the ministerial code, as the independent adviser on ministers’ interests is unable to open investigations without the prime minister’s say-so.

The PM also decides whether the code has been broken, and if and how to discipline the minister involved if it has, based on the adviser’s findings.

An investigation into allegations of bullying by justice secretary Dominic Raab is expected to conclude in the coming weeks. 

The prime minister has been criticised for the way he has handled the investigation into complaints against Raab. When formal complaints against the deputy prime minister came to light last year, Rishi Sunak had yet to appoint an independent adviser on ministers’ interests and thus had to appoint an external investigator.

Sunak has also faced criticism for reappointing Raab as justice secretary last year because it has been reported that the PM was aware of informal complaints about his behaviour at the time.

And last month, PCS union chief said Sunak's decision not to suspend Raab while he was being investigated had contributed to a “collapse in morale” in the civil service.

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