PCS withdraws from Cabinet Office review into racism and discrimination

Civil service’s biggest union accuses department of carrying out “exercise in damage limitation”
Cabinet Office

By Tevye Markson

14 Mar 2022

The civil service’s biggest trade union has withdrawn from the Cabinet Office’s respect and inclusion review into racism and other kinds of discrimination in the department.

The Cabinet Office launched the review last year after receiving pressure from PCS amid accusations of racism and unfairness towards disabled staff.

PCS released a statement on Friday, announcing its withdrawal from the “flawed” review.

The union said it has “sought to work cooperatively with the department, but management have resisted and appear to have seen the review as an exercise in damage limitation”.

“PCS has been campaigning for two years for the department to work with us to deal with racism and disability discrimination, but we have been met with defensiveness and intransigence,” the union said.

“We will now pursue other options to ensure that this failing department is held to and upholds the standards which every working person has a right to expect.”

Officers at PCS wrote to Cabinet Office chief operating officer Sarah Harrison on Wednesday, advising that PCS will no longer take part in the review.

The union said the government had rejected its proposals for an open and transparent review that staff could have confidence in.

PCS said it had suggested the Cabinet Office hire organisations with expertise in investigating racism and other forms of discrimination to conduct the review, but the Cabinet Office instead chose the market research firm Ipsos MORI.

It said the Cabinet Office also refused to allow a trade union presence on the review’s management panel and failed to specifically reference racism and disability discrimination as part of the review.

 The Cabinet Office said the review will focus on racism and disability discrimination where its data shows room for improvement.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis said last month that the review would have a “particular focus on race and disability where our data shows scope for improvement”. The Cabinet Office has not published terms of reference for the review.

The union also said the Cabinet Office has “sought to shield its senior leaders from any criticism that could emerge from the report and deliberately chosen to put in place damage limitation” by not providing the unions with the draft version of the report.

Other criticisms included the lack of opportunities for staff to have one-to-one meetings with Ipsos MORI, “chaotic organisation” and insufficient resources for the review.

“A key part of that strategy appears to be about keeping the unions at arm’s length, rather than embracing the openness and transparency that PCS called for,” the union added.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The respect and inclusion review is a crucial part of our work to make sure we are a supportive, fully inclusive and welcoming place to work.

"Unions and other stakeholders have and continue to be regularly engaged throughout this process, including through dedicated sessions with representatives."

The Cabinet Office said it does not tolerate discrimination bullying, harassment or discrimination in any form and said the latest data shows a decline in reported incidents of discrimination in the department.

A black civil servant recently received a six-figure settlement from the Cabinet Office over racial discrimination allegations and has called for an investigation into the department.

Another black civil servant reportedly tried to take their own life after “prolonged racial bullying” in a government department.

PCS last year threatened the Cabinet Office with legal action, saying it had compiled evidence showing that more than 80 of its members who work in the department had complained about being racially bullied.

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