A report published by the Cabinet Office this week examining how bullying and harassment allegations are handled in the civil service was “not worth the wait”, the FDA trade union has said.
The review, led by Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport perm sec Sue Owen, found thousands of civil servants don’t believe bullying, harassment and misconduct are taken seriously where they work. Of nearly 19,000 civil servants surveyed for the review, only 37% said they felt it was safe to report incidents.
The review set out a series of actions the civil service would take to tackle these issues, including embedding an inclusive leadership standard into the overhauled success profiles recruitment system and providing more ways to report bullying.
But Amy Leversidge, assistant general secretary at the FDA, told CSW the report was “extremely light on detail” in terms of recommendations and it did not explain what the civil service had done over the last year to improve workplace cultures and ensure staff felt able to speak up about bullying or harassment.
"The civil service clearly understands the widespread nature and extent of the problem and clearly understands the devastating impact bullying, harassment and sexual harassment can have – but doesn’t appear to have considered what tangible solutions will be effective to actually tackle the problems," she said. “Instead it makes lots of vague promises about what they are planning to do.”
Leversidge also criticised the review for failing to address instances of bullying, harassment or misconduct by ministers towards civil servants. “It is staggering that this aspect has been left by the wayside.”
The review was published nearly a year after the Cabinet Office launched an inquiry into the former Cabinet Office minister Damian Green following allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards the journalist Kate Maltby, Leversidge noted.
“If the same complaint was raised today we would still have no independent process for dealing with it, so whether the complaint would be dealt with fairly would all come down to party politics and power."
In July parliament approved a code of behaviour that gave the commissioner for standards power to dole out low-level punishments such as compelling an apology or compulsory training. More serious complaints will be examined by a committee of MPs and lay people, and the most serious sanctions would be decided by a vote in the House of Commons.
The FDA expressed concern at the time about MPs assessing sanctions for their colleagues.
“Dealing with complaints against ministers is clearly complicated but the Scottish Government have developed an independent process for dealing with this so it certainly isn’t impossible,” Leversidge said, referring to guidance published in August.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson acknowledged there was work to be done to ensure the civil service is fully inclusive. They said work was underway to improve policies and investigations. It was developing guidance concerning sexual harassment and working with with departments to develop minimum standards for reporting concerns, they added.
The department has already introduced new guidance and procedures to help ensure investigations are transparent, timely and "supportive of all parties", the spokesperson said.
They added: "Our permanent secretaries have made it clear that where bullying, harassment and discrimination happens, it must be tackled promptly.
"Bullying and harassment has no place in the workplace. While instances of this kind of behaviour in the civil service remain low, it is right that we understand how and why it happens so that we can best address it and ensure staff feel happy and supported at work."