The civil service’s biggest unions have issued damning assessments of Boris Johnson’s three years in Downing Street in the wake of his decision to stand down as Conservative Party leader, paving the way for a new PM.
They attacked Johnson for presiding over a culture of toxic briefings against officials; real-terms pay cuts and a fundamental lack of integrity, exemplified by his failure to accept that home secretary Priti Patel had broken the ministerial code by bullying her staff.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said the PM’s “poor leadership and plans for mass civil service job cuts” were having a devastating effect on people who work tirelessly to deliver essential services.
“Boris Johnson leaves behind him a shameful, shambolic legacy of chaos, a continuation of low pay for key workers and job cuts,” he said.
“He went out of his way to praise the peerless civil service in his resignation speech. The same peerless civil service that he wanted to cut by 91,000 jobs and whose pay has been kept well below inflation for years.
“We need a change of direction to a government that values and rewards its own workers with decent pay and pensions. We urgently need investment, not cuts to our public sector workers and services.”
Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, said it would be crucial for Johnson’s successor to rebuild trust with the civil service and lead by example in terms of behaviour and how staff are valued, rewarded and treated.
“From day one, they need to ditch the crass and damaging policy of arbitrary headcount reductions and stop using the civil service as a punching bag,” he said.
“They need to bring to an end the toxic anti-civil service briefings and they and their ministers need to take responsibility for decisions taken on their watch, rather than constantly looking for others to blame.
“They need to recognise what everyone knows: that pay systems are broken. Pay is lagging behind the private sector, but also the wider public sector. This is compounded by a lack of pay progression.
“Organisations should be rewarding and investing in knowledge, skills and experience. A fundamental reset is needed.”
Graham said the new PM needed to acknowledge that there is both an immediate crisis with civil service pay because of the cost-of-living crisis and a need for long-term reform, which he said would be best addressed by the creation of an independent pay review body for departmental staff.
He added that the “stupid” decision to pause Fast Stream recruitment – understood to have been opposed by some of Johnson’s former cabinet colleagues – needed to be reversed, and the “culture wars” on flexible working and equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives needed to end.
Dave Penman, general secretary of civil service leaders’ union the FDA, said the “predominant” failing behind Johnson’s downfall was the PM’s lack of integrity.
“When Johnson refused to accept that the home secretary had breached the ministerial code – despite having been found guilty of bullying civil servants, including shouting and swearing at them – he said there was no place in government for bullying behaviour,” Penman wrote in his CSW column yesterday.
“On Tuesday, he said there was no place in government for abuse of power and predatory behaviour, whilst at the same time admitting he kept and then promoted a minister [Chris Pincher] who had been found guilty of that very behaviour.”
Penman said that the resignation of two independent advisers on ministers’ interests during Johnson’s three years in Downing Street and the soon-to-be-ex-PM’s “point blank” refusal to regulate the conduct of ministers loyal to him had exposed the current system as “woefully inadequate”.
He said Johnson’s successor needed to act quickly to restore trust in the integrity of government and the conduct of ministers, protecting departmental officials from unacceptable behaviour in the process.
“They do not need to reinvent the wheel, just do exactly what it says on the tin, and quickly implement in full the recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life,” he said.
Those recommendations include giving the independent adviser on ministers’ interests the power to launch their own investigations into ministers’ conduct without requiring approval from the prime minister first.
Prospect’s Garry Graham agreed on the pressing need for a “clear and independent processes” to ensure staff concerns about inappropriate behaviour at all levels can be safely raised in the knowledge that issues will be “speedily addressed”.