The FDA trade union has called on government to do more to improve the complaints handling process for allegations made by civil servants against ministers, highlighting that signs of action last year have slowed.
In a blog article for Civil Service World, Amy Leversidge, the FDA’s assistant general secretary, writes that as the UK government does not have an independent policy, the Scottish Government’s investigation into Alex Salmond could not happen to a UK counterpart.
Salmond is subject to a Scottish Government investigation over claims of sexual misconduct that relate to his time as first minister.
He has denied the claim and has applied to take Scottish Government permanent secretary Leslie Evans to a judicial review, claiming she has acted improperly by using a procedure that was not in place at the time to which the allegations relate.
In her article for CSW, Leversidge points out that the Scottish Government has an independent policy for dealing with complaints against ministers, which has been in place since 2010. Last year it was updated to include former ministers.
“The policy has the public support of the current first minister Nicola Sturgeon. Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary to the Scottish Government, is duty bound to investigate those complaints,” she added. “Evans’ composure under intense political pressure has been commendable and a true testament to integrity of civil servants, who are responsible for implementing policies.”
However, the UK government has no comparable policy, Leversidge said.
“Yet, if the same type of complaint were raised against a minister in a UK government department no such investigation would take place as, unlike the Scottish Government, no such policy is in place.”
Whether a complainant is investigated would depend on whether the prime minister views it as a breach of the pre-existing ministerial code, she said.
An investigation under the terms of the Ministerial Code led to Damian Green’s resignation as Cabinet Office minister last year following allegations over his professional conduct into both the 2008 Metropolitan Police investigation that is said to have found pornography on his House of Commons computuer and allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards the journalist Kate Maltby.
However, Leversidge said that despite initial positive signs in the aftermath of Green’s resignation, and the earlier resignation of Michael Fallon after he apologised for touching a journalist’s knee in 2002, “little progress has been made in developing a fully independent process that civil servants could have confidence in”.
She added: “If a minister harasses or bullies a civil servant in their department there is no formal process for that civil servant to make a complaint, have it investigated and have sanctions applied if the complaint is upheld.
“It is clear, from our experience representing leaders and managers in the civil service, our time acting on behalf of House of Commons staff, and the recent revelations in Scotland, that party politics needs to be separated from the complaints process. The FDA continues to call for an independent process for dealing with complaints against ministers, and this must include an independent process for the investigation of the complaint and independent decision-making on sanctions if the complaint is upheld.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said the UK government already had a "robust process" for dealing with complaints.
"Where a civil servant has experienced any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination by a minister they are able to raise this through their line management chain," they said. "It will be escalated to the departmental permanent secretary and the Cabinet Office."