FDA chief Dave Penman: committee chair was "grandstanding" over Olly Robbins row

Union general secretary sticks up for the Home Office second perm sec after Home Affairs Committee grilling

By Matt Foster

20 Apr 2016

The chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee was "grandstanding" when he ordered the Home Office's second most senior official to leave mid-way through a parliamentary grilling, according to the head of the FDA union.

During a committee session last week, HASC chair Keith Vaz repeatedly questioned Home Office second permanent secretary Olly Robbins (pictured) on whether the director general of the Border Force, Sir Charles Montgomery, was yet aware of his budget for the year ahead.

But Robbins did not directly answer the question, with Vaz branding Robbins' responses “extremely unsatisfactory” and eventually excusing him from the committee to return to the Home Office and provide answers.

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Robbins was then invited to come before HASC again this Tuesday, but did not appear after the committee's questions were addressed in a letter from Home Secretary Theresa May.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union – which represents senior officials – has now hit out at the committee's conduct, accusing Vaz of placing publicity over proper scrutiny.

"The Home Affairs Select Committee Chair’s performance, as that is exactly what it was, is a particularly unfortunate example of the approach that some Select Committee members have adopted," he told Civil Service World.
“By interrupting Robbins’ evidence 11 times in little over 5 minutes, and repeatedly asking him ‘do you understand that?’ over the 20 minute session, the chair demonstrated that he was not interested in getting to the facts, but instead was grandstanding for a wider audience.
“Select committees play a vital role in our democracy by holding government to account, but this sort of behaviour is little more than an ego trip wrapped in the cloak of noble purpose and only serves to undermine credibility."

During last week's hearing, Vaz appeared to take particular issue when Robbins pointed out that home secretary Theresa May had already provided detail on the Border Force’s funding to her Labour opposite number Andy Burnham, something Vaz said had "nothing to do" with his committee's work.

"I don’t think you understand the role of a select committee," Vaz said.

Home Office perm sec Mark Sedwill was meanwhile recalled by the separate Public Accounts Committee on Monday after an evidence session which highlighted disagreements between the department and the National Audit Office spending watchdog over the department's progress on confiscation orders. PAC chair Meg Hillier described the session as a "farce".


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