Stop calling civil servants 'lazy, woke and Machiavellian', union chief tells ministers

Dave Penman urges Rishi Sunak to show he values government workforce at FDA conference
"How does this new government of Rishi Sunak demonstrate that it values its own employees?" Penman asked. Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Live News

Ministers must stop portraying civil servants as “lazy, woke and Machiavellian” and instead start valuing their staff, the head of the FDA union has said.

Addressing the FDA’s annual conference in London today, Penman lambasted the prime minister for treating civil servants like “second class public sector workers” and for failing to rein in ministers who criticise them publicly.

He accused Rishi Sunak’s government of failing to value its employees, with increasing workloads and real-terms budget cuts caused by rising inflation adding to civil servants’ difficulties.

“Now having been told you’re a lazy, woke, inefficient, remainer, activist, snowflake, you are also now a Machiavellian genius, able to unseat ministers and undermine the settled will of government,” he said.

“I don’t know about you, conference but I’ve had enough of this. At some point we need to say enough is enough.

“Ministers need to demonstrate they value civil servants. It is they who have put a number on that, not us. It is they who believe that the cost of living crisis should be addressed for some public servants and not others, and it is they who have pushed the FDA over the edge into balloting for industrial action.”

In April the union, which represents senior managers, announced plans to ballot all of its members on taking strike action over pay for the first time in over 40 years.

The announcement came after the Cabinet Office confirmed most civil servants would be offered a pay rise of 4.5% and no one-off cost-of-living payments.

Penman’s comments also addressed the fallout from the independent investigation that last month upheld complaints of bullying against Dominic Raab, who resigned as justice secretary as a result. Since then, Raab and many of his allies have suggested the complaints were part of a concerted effort to remove him from cabinet.

Penman said Sunak’s claims that he wanted to lead a government of integrity and accountability had been undermined by his decision to appoint Raab as justice secretary and deputy PM.

“We now know there were written complaints of bullying submitted about Dominic Raab whilst he was justice secretary under Johnson. We also know, because the prime minister refused on five separate occasions to answer a direct question about it, that this new prime minister was aware about those concerns as well,” he said.

“Faced with those concerns from civil servants, what did he do? Not only did he appoint Raab as the deputy prime minister of the country, but he reappointed him to the very departments where those concerns had been raised. What exactly does that tell you about how the prime minister values civil servants?”

Penman also used his speech to pay tribute to officials who submitted complaints about Raab’s behaviour – which investigator Adam Tolley found was at times “intimidating”, “aggressive” and “an abuse or misuse of power”.

Penman said: “No one can fully imagine what that experience has been like, and how the entire system is designed to protect the prime minister and not those on the receiving end of an abuse of power.”

He hit back at accusations that the FDA – which supported some of the official complaints – has a “hit list of ministers”.

“The FDA does not go around encouraging complaints – but the FDA has, and it always will, stand up to bullies on behalf of its members,” he said.

“As Adam Tolley KC made clear in his report, Mr Raab, maybe if you spent a bit more time looking in the mirror, and a bit less time looking for ‘reds under the bed’, things might have turned out differently for you.

“Raab may be gone, but it is hardly the vindication of a system that so patently fails the very people it is supposed to protect. It was a system that the prime minister inherited, but he didn’t have to keep.”

Read the most recent articles written by Beckie Smith - Which civil service departments have the biggest gender pay gaps?

Share this page