'Misogyny' behind criticism of DIT perm sec Antonia Romeo, union chief says

Media has targeted "female candidate with a profile", FDA's Dave Penman says
Photo: Photoshot for Civil Service World

Criticism of Department of International Trade permanent secretary Antonia Romeo has a "whiff of misogyny" about it, the head of the FDA trade union has said.

Reports this weekend of a previous investigation into allegations about Romeo's behaviour as HM consul general in New York came amid claims that she is a contender to replace outgoing cabinet secretary and head of the civil service Sir Mark Sedwill in the autumn.

Dave Penman, whose union represents senior civil servants, told The Times that Romeo had been targeted because she was a "female candidate with a profile" and an “outgoing, dynamic” personality.

The Mail on Sunday reported yesterday that the Cabinet Office had in 2017 investigated claims that Romeo had "terrorised" staff who criticised of her spending and lavish lifestyle.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said the allegations were 'made some time ago, were thoroughly investigated and were dismissed on the basis there was no case to answer".

The newspaper also said junior staff working under Romeo had felt pressured to submit questionable expenses on her behalf, including private school fees for her children in New York and a last-minute flight to attend the Bafta awards.

And the newspaper noted that she had attended and hosted parties in New York whose attendees included media mogul Rupert Murdoch, model Alexa Chung, designers such as Calvin Klein and Michael Kors, and since-disgraced director Harvey Weinstein.

But Penman said criticism of Romeo networking with celebrities and attending glitzy functions was misplaced.

“If you are the trade ambassador for the east coast of the United States, then it’s creative industries, it’s fashion, that’s what it’s all about,” he told The Times. “That’s the sort of person you want rather than someone who’s going to be sitting in their apartment seven nights a week."

DIT has said the consul general role entails "promoting UK economic, commercial, political and consular interests in New York and the surrounding area".

Penman added: “When you become a manager, when you make decisions, people don’t like you and they complain. There probably isn’t a permanent secretary who doesn’t have at some point complaints that are made against them.”

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