Networks banned from inviting speakers critical of government

Networks also told to conduct checks on speakers “that could be deemed political”.
Photo: Paul Downey/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

By Mark Smulian

29 Nov 2021


A leaked Whitehall memo says civil service networks should not invite speakers critical of government policies, the Daily Telegraph has reported.

It said the memo from the Cabinet Office was directed at the informal networks that link civil servants with common interests, such as the Civil Service LGBT+ Network, and the Civil Service Race Forum.

In future, such bodies will have to make and record checks on external speakers’ opinions and if any doubts arise, they can be invited only with a permanent secretary’s permission, according to the memo.

The "official-sensitive" message said invitations should not be issued to those who have “spoken against key government policies” and that due diligence checks should be made on speakers, including on their social media posts.

There was recent controversy over comments made by Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal, was invited to give a lecture at the Home Office, about Priti Patel’s family background. In a 2013 tweet, Gopal said the home secretary was a "reminder that many Asians in British Africa had ferociously anti-black attitudes and were used by colonial administrations to keep black populations in their place. An attitude she brings to government."

The memo warned of the need to maintain impartiality and said: “We recognise that it is not always clear to determine whether an activity is deemed political or if an individual has spoken against key government policies.

“This is why all cross-government networks must carry out due diligence checks on all speakers invited to events, and the content of any events and communications to ensure impartiality.”

Checks should be made so as to exclude speakers who have commented on government policy, political decisions, approaches or individuals in government “that could be deemed political”.

Such commentary “may have been made on social media or other outlets”, it added.

Politicised events or groups should not affect “the working life of civil servants and distracting from the very excellent work delivered by you in cross-government networks, as well as the work you support within departments," the memo said.

“It is imperative that these core values are at the forefront of everything we do, so that the reputation of the civil service and the relationship between civil servants, ministers and the public is not adversely affected."

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Employees are encouraged to engage and discuss a range of different topics and perspectives, and all events must be consistent with the civil service code of conduct. We have reminded departments and staff networks of these expectations for events.

“We have recently adopted an increased due diligence process for guest speakers in line with cross-government best practice."

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