MPs urged to probe Cabinet Office racism concerns

Civil service’s biggest union says select committee can force department to reveal ‘true extent of discrimination’
Cabinet Office

By Jim Dunton

14 Jul 2022

The civil service’s biggest union has called on MPs to launch an investigation into allegations of racism within the Cabinet Office – and to force the department to unpack the findings of its own knowledge of the extent of problems.

PCS assistant general secretary John Moloney asked members of parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee to hold an inquiry into racism at the department, which is home to the civil service’s central HR function.

The union has been long been voicing concerns over issues reported by members working at the Cabinet Office. Last year it said it was considering legal action and making a referral to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in an effort to drive change.

In March this year, PCS withdrew its support for  a “respect and inclusion review” being undertaken by the Cabinet Office, alleging it was being treated as “an exercise in damage limitation” rather than an opportunity to embrace openness and transparency.

In his letter to PACAC chair William Wragg, Moloney said that although the review had concluded several weeks ago, its findings had yet to be shared and no details had been provided on when the report would be published. He called on the committee of MPs to launch its own investigation into the Cabinet Office.

“Despite chasing we still don’t know when the report will be issued. What we did find out is that HR in the Cabinet Office is set up a working party to look at the review’s findings and recommendations but kept this from the unions and staff,” Moloney said.

“HR now claim that they are committed to sharing the report with us but again we don’t know when it will be made public or whether the report actually addresses the reality of racism in the Cabinet Office.

“We hope that the committee will be interested therefore in investigating racism within the Cabinet Office, reviewing how the department has dealt with discrimination, its handling of the review and of course whether at all times the department has complied with all aspects of the civil service code in relation to being open and honest in its dealings with staff and unions.”

Moloney said PCS’s knowledge of problems at the department was limited to what members had reported and there was a suspicion there was more discrimination than it was aware of.

“The committee can use its powers to force the Cabinet Office to reveal the true extent of discrimination within the department,” he said.

Moloney’s letter gave a seven-point list of evidence supporting the union’s concerns about racism within the Cabinet Office. It includes complaints from more than 80 members about being “racially bullied/profiled”; anonymised accounts contained in the Cabinet Office’s Lived Experience booklet; an increasing number of employment tribunals in progress or concluded in favour of staff; and performance-management data.

The letter also described the Cabinet Office as having “the worst incidence of bullying and harassment in the whole civil service” in the most-recent Civil Service People Survey.

The most recent people survey was conducted last autumn, but its results were only published in April. The findings showed 11% of respondents at the Cabinet Office said they been bullied or harassed over the previous 12 months, down from 14% in 2020. Its discrimination figures went in the opposite direction, however, edging up from 10% to 11%.

A CSW crunch of the survey’s bullying, harassment and discrimination scores found the UK Space Agency had the highest proportion of staff reporting bullying or harassment issues, at 19%. However, the Cabinet Office had the largest proportion confirming they had suffered bullying and harassment of any central government department.

Responding to Moloney’s letter, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said the department did not tolerate bullying, harassment or discrimination in any form.

“The number of bullying claims have been falling steadily, and people are increasingly confident that cases are handled properly, but we know there is more work to be done,” they said.

“This is why last year we commissioned an independent respect and inclusion review in the department. Recommendations will build on the actions we have already taken and will help ensure we are a supportive, fully inclusive and welcoming place to work.”

The Cabinet Office added that trade union representatives and their members would receive the same report on the review as all departmental staff.

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