"Failures of leadership and judgement", blurred lines of accountability and a No.10 operation that has expanded without sufficient structures to keep it in check contributed to a “serious failure” to observe the highest standards during the coronavirus pandemic, Sue Gray has said.
In an update on her investigation into alleged parties at Downing Street and other government buildings during the pandemic, Gray said the launch of a Met Police investigation into some of the events meant she had not been able to provide a "meaningful report" .
But the stripped-back report did say behaviour at several gatherings was “difficult to justify” given the far-reaching restrictions the government was asking the public to accept.
Gray's investigation looked into 16 events on 12 dates over the last two years.
However, Gray said she was “extremely limited” in what she could say, as the Met Police has asked her to make "minimal reference" to the events it is investigating.
The Met Police’s probe is looking into 12 of the 16 gatherings, the update – which contains her initial findings and was published on GOV.UK in lieu of a full report – confirmed.
“At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time,” Gray said.
“At times it seems there was too little thought given to what was happening across the country in considering the appropriateness of some of these gatherings, the risks they presented to public health and how they might appear to the public.”
She said there were “failures of leadership and judgement by different parts of No.10 and the Cabinet Office at different times". Some events should not have been allowed to take place, she said, while others should not have been allowed to develop as they did.
Leadership structures are “fragmented and complicated and this has sometimes led to the blurring of lines of accountability”, Gray said.
Additionally, she said “too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the PM”, which she said should be addressed as a matter of priority. Johnson's PPS during most of the events was Martin Reynolds.
She called for an overhaul of the No.10 machine in light of its "increased size, scale and range of responsibility".
The number of staff working in No.10 has increased to the extent that it is now like a "small government department" rather than purely a dedicated Prime Minister’s Office, Gray said, “yet structure that support the smooth operation of Downing Street have not evolved sufficiently to meet the demands of this expansion”.
Staff 'unable to report or challenge poor conduct'
The report also said staff had wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so.
“No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it,” Gray said.
“There should be easier ways for staff to raise such concerns informally, outside of the line management chain.”
Excessive drinking 'not appropriate'
Gray also took aim at the frequency with which people were reported to be drinking in government buildings.
"Excessive consumption of alcohol” in a professional workplace is never appropriate, she said, and called for every government to set a "clear and robust" policy for alcohol consumption in the workplace.
Gray also raised concern about the use of the Downing Street garden during the pandemic, saying it was inappropriately used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight. She said access to the space should have by invitation only and in a controlled environment.