Government leaders 'must bear responsibility' for Partygate culture: Gray report published

Report says senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, "must bear responsibility" for culture which allowed events to go ahead
Cabinet secretary Simon Case pictured in the report with Boris Johnson, having a drink on the PM's birthday

By Tevye Markson

25 May 2022

Senior leaders in government "must bear responsibility" for the culture that allowed Covid-breaching events to happen during the pandemic, Sue Gray has said in her report into the Partygate scandal.

Cabinet secretary Simon Case, Boris Johnson, former cab sec Sir Mark Sedwill, ex-Cabinet Office ethics chief Helen MacNamara and the PM's former chief adviser to the PM Dominic Cummings are among the people to be named in the critical report today.

No.10 received the Cabinet Office second permanent secretary's report into gatherings at Downing Street and other government buildings that took place in 2020 and 2021  this morning, ahead of its publication.

It includes nine photos, with Johnson and Case the only people featuring and others blurred out. 

“Many will be dismayed that behaviour of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government,” Gray said in the report.

“The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this.”

The report has been released after the Met Police finished its own investigation last week, fining 83 people and handing out 126 fixed penalty notices.

Gray's investigation looked into 16 events on 12 dates in 2020 and 2021, while Covid-19 restrictions set by the government were in effect. Gray had previously released a stripped-back report criticising "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.

The release of the full report was delayed after the Met Police carried out its investigation.

Gray said the events she investigated were attended by leaders in government and many of these gatherings "should not have been allowed to happen". 

“Whatever the initial intent, what took place at many of these gatherings and the way in which they developed was not in line with Covid guidance at the time," she concluded.

However, Gray said the events she looked into did not reflect the prevailing culture in government and the civil service at the time. She said she remained "immensely proud to be a civil servant".

The report also sets out what the government has done in response to Gray's initial findings in January, with the second perm sec saying she is "pleased" with the progress made.

Gray criticised the fragmentary and complicated leadership structures in No.10 in the initial report.

Since then, the government has announced changes to the organisation and management of the centre of government, including splitting up the Cabinet Office, with parts of the organisation transferring to a department for the prime minister.

"Now these need the chance and time to bed in," Gray said.

She also said she spoken to staff who had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they felt unable to raise properly. She also heard multiple examples of security and cleaning staff being treated with a lack of respect.

Gray said this was "unacceptable" but that she was reassured to see that steps have since been taken to make it easier for people to raise concerns electronically, in person or online, including directly with No.10 perm sec Samantha Jones.

"I hope that this will truly embed a culture that welcomes and creates opportunities for challenge and speaking up at all levels," she said.

Gray also recommended that every government department should have a "clear and robust" policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace. Since then guidance has been issued to all government departments, Gray said.

CSW has approached the Cabinet Office for comment.

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