Crisis of confidence among civil servants in Gove's department


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The Independent Online

A climate of fear is operating among civil servants in Michael Gove's Department for Education (DfE), it is claimed.

Almost six out of 10 (59 per cent) do not feel it is safe to challenge the way things are done in the department. In addition, fewer than one in four believes changes introduced in the department are "usually for the better".

The crisis of confidence among civil servants, contained in a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) on the department, come in a week when Mr Gove has been accused of running a "dysfunctional department".

The claim came from his opposite number, Labour's education spokesman Andy Burnham, after it was revealed that senior advisers had resorted to using their private emails to discuss government business after there were leaks from their government emails to the media.

Mr Gove was using one registered in the name of his wife, The Times journalist Sarah Vine, and known as the "Mrs Blurt".

In the NAO report, which was based on an internal survey of DfE personnel, it also emerged that only 41 per cent felt that change was being managed well in the department, while just one in three felt they had the opportunity to contribute their views.

The issues were raised by MPs on the Commons select committee for education as they interviewed four senior members of the departmental board – which oversees the running of the DfE.

Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt said: "If people do not feel safe, that suggests to me that people feel they might be removed if they challenge.

One official from the Public and Commercial Services Union who works in the department but wanted to remain anonymous, told The Times Educational supplement: "There is a lot of fear. Staff feel if they put their heads above the parapet they will be seen as an awkward character who could be got rid of."

The DfE said the survey had been completed almost a year ago, and was one of a series of annual reports it carried out. Its rating by its staff was still higher than the average for the civil service – and the drop in job satisfaction was measured against a high base the previous year.

"We take staff morale seriously and that's precisely why we not only carry out these detailed surveys but also act on the findings," said a spokesman.

Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell has rejected criticism of the Government's handling of a £500,000 grant to the New Schools Network – to help it advise on the setting up of "free" schools.

A leaked email revealed Dominic Cummings, Mr Gove's chief political aide who had previously worked for the network, talking of the grant being pushed through by Mr Gove.

However, Sir Gus, who investigated the matter, said: "There is nothing in the emails ... which calls into question the appropriateness of the grant award."