Repair damage to civil servants' trust by concluding Patel bullying probe, PM urged

Union chief urges Boris Johnson to "consider your obligations" to civil servants, months after investigation launched
Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/PA Images

The continued delay to the completion of an investigation into alleged bullying by home secretary Priti Patel is damaging civil servants’ confidence in ministers, the head of a civil service trade union has told the prime minister.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union for senior civil servants, wrote to Boris Johnson last week urging him to either make a determination on the delayed probe or commit publicly to a timetable on its publication.

It has widely been reported that the probe was completed weeks ago but that it has yet to be signed off.

And Penman said that “given the damage already done to confidence in the process”, Johnson must commit to publishing a summary of the investigation at the same time as his decision is made public.

“As minister for the civil service, I am asking you to consider your obligations to those civil servants; to recognise the damage that is being done by the continued delay to this investigation and to take steps to repair that damage,” Penman wrote.

“Seven months on, it will be hard to reach any conclusion other than that justice has already been denied and that the continued delay to the process is driven solely by political considerations."

The letter was sent after it emerged that Patel could become the first secretary of state to be called before an employment tribunal.

Patel is named as the respondent in the schedule for former Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam’s constructive dismissal case against the government, it was reported yesterday. Rutnam has been supported in this case by the FDA.

Rutnam quit the department in February, saying that his work to protect the health and safety of the department’s 35,000 staff had “created tensions” with Patel and that he had encouraged her to “change her behaviours”.

“I have received allegations that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands – behaviour that created fear and that needed some bravery to call out,” he said at the time.

Rutnam’s shock resignation, which followed a series of anonymous briefings in the press against him and Patel, came amid a series of allegations that she had bullied staff while working in other departments. Patel has denied all the allegations.

Shortly afterwards, then-cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill was tasked with investigating whether Patel had broken the ministerial code.

Penman noted that when the investigation was launched in March, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said it was “vital” that the probe was concluded “as quickly as possible in the interests of everyone involved”.

The union chief also reiterated the FDA's call for a “transparent and independent process for dealing with complaints of bullying or harassment against ministers – one that will command the confidence of civil servants and ministers alike”.

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