Anger at finding of ‘unacceptable’ treatment of security and cleaning staff

A cleaner found red wine on a wall after the Downing Street Christmas party in December 2020, according to the Sue Gray report.

A light over the 10 Downing Street doo (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
A light over the 10 Downing Street doo (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

An industry leader has hit out at the “contempt” shown towards cleaners at 10 Downing Street following revelations that red wine was spilt on a wall after a Christmas party.

Union leaders representing civil servants reacted with anger to the findings of Sue Gray’s “partygate” report, with one calling for the Prime Minister to resign.

Ms Gray said she learned of multiple examples of “unacceptable” treatment of security and cleaning staff during her investigation.

She wrote: “I found that some staff had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly.

“I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff.

“This was unacceptable.”

Staff members “drank excessively” at the Downing Street Christmas party on December 18 2020, and a cleaner found red wine was spilled on one wall the next morning, the report said.

The publication stated: “There was food and alcohol available which had been bought and brought in by staff. Some members of staff drank excessively.

“The event was crowded and noisy such that some people working elsewhere in the No 10 building that evening heard significant levels of noise coming from what they characterised as a ‘party’ in the press office.

“A cleaner who attended the room the next morning noted that there had been red wine spilled on one wall and on a number of boxes of photocopier paper.”

Jim Melvin, chairman of the British Cleaning Council, said: “At a time when many cleaning and hygiene operational staff were putting themselves at risk to maintain high standards of hygiene and ensure that key workers and the public were safe and well during the pandemic, it is absolutely appalling and upsetting to hear that they were being treated with such contempt by people who sit within Government or the civil service and who frankly should know better.

“Cleaning staff are hardworking, professional and deserve to be respected in their vital work, just like anyone one else, and certainly how the people concerned would expect to be treated.

“In some parts of the cleaning industry, the demand for increased standards of hygiene during the pandemic has combined with severe staff shortages to drive many colleagues close to breaking point.

“The Prime Minister himself thanked cleaning staff in Parliament and now we are subjected to the contents of Sue Gray’s report.

“Which one are we to believe?

Boris Johnson at a gathering in Downing Street (ITV/PA)

“What cleaning staff need is support and recognition from the Government, not to be treated with such arrogance or disrespect.

“In that respect, we wish to engage with the Government and actually see what the claim that steps have been taken really means in detail.

“We will be formally requesting a meeting to have such engagement and discussion.”

Boris Johnson told MPs: “I have been as surprised and disappointed as anyone else in this House as the revelations have unfolded and, frankly, I have been appalled by some of the behaviour, particularly in the treatment of the security and the cleaning staff.

“And I’d like to apologise to those members of staff and I expect anyone who behaved in that way to apologise to them as well.”

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The Prime Minister should resign.

“He has consistently shown a failure of leadership.

“He has no integrity, no moral authority and his position is untenable.”

Prospect’s general secretary Mike Clancy said: “It would be a travesty if junior civil servants paid the price for this culture when their political bosses get off scot free.

“The measure of a boss is how they treat their staff, and with relentless attacks on civil servants in the press and threats to their jobs and pay, it’s clear what kind of boss Boris Johnson is.

“The PM must finally take responsibility for his actions and end his attacks on committed public servants who kept the country going whilst Downing Street partied.”

He added: “These details of appalling behaviour towards support staff in Downing Street demonstrate the disgraceful culture that ministers allowed to fester at the heart of Government during a period of national crisis.

“It’s laughable for the Prime Minister to pretend he didn’t know what was going on and to offer faux outrage and shock at the parties he himself attended.

“The vast majority of civil servants working both in Whitehall and across the country will be disgusted by the behaviour of those who should have been leading and setting an example to others.”

A PCS member who works in the Cabinet Office said: “The Prime Minister’s apology is too little, too late. There’s been a culture of bullying, harassment and sexism in No 10 for many years.

“It was going on behind Theresa May’s back before he took office, yet he did nothing to address it.

“His empty words will be no consolation to the hard-working cleaners and security guards who have suffered under his leadership.”

Petros Elia, general secretary of the United Voices of World union, said: “We’re not in the least bit surprised by the revelations in the report. We have many members who work as cleaners and security guards and these workers face disrespect on a daily basis in offices across London, not just in Downing Street.

“It is disrespectful to have rowdy parties during the pandemic and expect cleaners to mop up after you, but it is also disrespectful to pay cleaners, porters, security guards… poverty wages, not give them full sick pay or better pensions.

“Most of the cleaners and security guards out there are ethnic minority workers, black, brown and migrant people, who are disproportionately impacted by poor working conditions and racialised inequalities.“

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