The civil service chief executive has said the review of civil service advice given to former home secretary Amber Rudd in the lead up to her resignation found issues of competency but not wilful misconduct.
Rudd resigned in April after “inadvertently misleading” parliament over the existence of Home Office targets for immigration removals. Subsequently, the department launched an investigation into the advice she had received from civil servants.
John Manzoni, who also serves as Cabinet Office permanent secretary, told MPs today that there was no evidence of “wilful misconduct or of any gross misconduct of any sort”, and that appropriate action had been taken.
He made the comments during a Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee hearing on the work of the cabinet secretary.
He and Sir Mark Sedwill, the national security adviser and acting cabinet secretary, were filling in for Sir Jeremy Heywood, having split his responsibilities between them while Heywood takes a three-month period of leave to undergo cancer treatment.
On the Home Office inquiry into advice provided to Rudd, Manzoni told the committee: “What I can say is that there was no finding in the report of any wilful misconduct or of any gross misconduct of any sort. Without going further, because I think it’s not fair to individuals involved, appropriate actions have been taken.”
He added: “The purpose of the investigation of course was to establish whether or not it was a basic issue of essentially competence or wilful manipulation.” The inquiry found “the former not the latter” had taken place, he said.
Both Manzoni and Sedwill defended the decision not to publish the inquiry report, which Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam described as “naturally confidential” during a separate select committee hearing this month.
Asked to comment more generally on why civil service leak inquiries are not published, Sedwill said: “I think the problem is that it would probably reveal investigative techniques that we wouldn’t wish to be known, for example about how a particular email chain was identified.
“The redactions would have to be so extensive that they’d remove the core meaning of the report.”
Rudd resigned following a series of Home Office leaks to the Guardian, which revealed that information had been provided to her office about the targets. Sedwill added that it may be appropriate to share some of the lessons learned from a range of seperate leak inquires.
Earlier in the hearing, Sedwill said that the motives for leaking varied, and that there aren’t that many civil service leaks relative to the amount of information passed around.
“Sometimes, frankly, it’s inadvertent,” he said. “Sometimes it’s vanity – people enjoying being taken seriously and treated as a pundit who’s on the inside track. Sometimes it’s deliberate with a policy objective in mind.”
He also said that he took a very hardline attitude toward leaks, and that he could think of no instances in the modern era where leaking could be justified or was an appropriate form of action to take. He also said he made sure the “severest available misconduct course would be taken” in cases of leaking, including where necessary the involvement of the police.
New information management systems will enable the civil service to track more carefully who has had access to information, Sedwill added.
Manzoni added that the civil service was working hard “to provide channels through which people can legitimately raise their concerns”, by improving whistleblowing procedures and encouraging people to use them. There have been 180 instances of whistleblowing across the civil service in the past year, up from 140 the year before, he said.
The PACAC hearing also covered work preparing for Brexit, and the growth in the size of the civil service as a result.
Manzoni said 5,800 extra people have been hired for Brexit work, and there were around another 1,000 in training and around 1,000 who’d been moved from other areas of the civil service to Brexit-related work. He said that “we have quite substantially increased the capacity of the civil service”, a trend that was likely to continue.
“If we look forward that continues to grow, although the nature of the resources tends to change. When we get beyond March next year we will need to increase again, depending on the outcome, in an operational sense – perhaps at the border,” he said.
The chief executive also confirmed reports this week that 50 staff from the Department for Exiting the European Union had been moved to Oliver Robbins’ Europe Unit based in the Cabinet Office.
Describing it as a “minor change, really”, Manzoni said: “Since the negotiations have moved into a more intense phase between now and whenever a deal is done… the people most closely associated with those negotiations have been seconded back into the Cabinet Office.
“They’ve moved closer to the Europe Unit, and they’re now part of the Europe Unit in the Cabinet Office. That unit is now providing direct advice to the prime minister and her deputy in that matter, which is the secretary of state for DExEU. So now we don’t have two entities anymore, we have a single entity, which is providing that advice for this intense phase of negotiations.”
Later in the hearing, Manzoni and Sedwill gave what PACAC chair and Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin described as a “spirited defence” of the continued existence of DExEU, but he said he remained unconvinced.
Sedwill said the department still has a role in coordinating departmental preparation for Brexit, and the alternative – beefing up the Cabinet Office – would not have been much different to having DExEU, which is “part of the centre”.
Heywood was first diagnosed with cancer last summer and remained in post during a previous round of treatment which continued until early Autumn 2017.