Sue Gray report: Fury in Whitehall as senior officials escape Partygate punishment

Officials claim senior colleagues have brought the civil service into ‘disrepute’

Anna Isaac
Wednesday 25 May 2022 21:31
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<p>Boris Johnson raises what appears to be a beer on his birthday with cabinet secretary Simon Case in attendance</p>

Boris Johnson raises what appears to be a beer on his birthday with cabinet secretary Simon Case in attendance

Sue Gray’s report has triggered a fresh wave of fury among officials in Whitehall, outraged at the lack of punishment for senior civil servants.

A host of officials told The Independent that Ms Gray’s lack of recommendations for disciplinary actions has left them unable to clean up the civil service’s reputation.

“Simon, Martin, Helen and others have brought the service into disrepute,” a senior Whitehall source said.

Simon Case, the UK’s most senior official, attended gatherings near his office and the birthday party for which the chancellor Rishi Sunak and prime minister Boris Johnson were both fined. He did not receive a fine from the police.

Martin Reynolds, at the time Mr Johnson’s most senior aide, sent messages in order to organise a BYOB drinks party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020. He then sent a message saying the party was something “we seem to have got away with”.

Helen MacNamara, the then deputy cabinet secretary, set up a karaoke machine at a party in the cabinet office, Ms Gray’s report said.

“We are meant to guide more junior staff away from situations where they blur lines with political advisers and poor behaviour,” officials said. “Their actions essentially led others to think, ‘dive in’”, they added, noting that morale was already bruised by reports of job cuts.

As the most senior civil servant in the UK, Mr Case is ultimately responsible for the conduct of officials, particularly those in the cabinet office.

Ms Gray’s report said: “Many will be dismayed that behaviour of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government.”

“The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture,” it added.

However, a message sent to civil servants by Mr Case and Alex Chisholm, chief operating officer for the civil service, following publication of the report did not offer any apology to staff for what Ms Gray termed “failings”.

The fury the message and Ms Gray’s report provoked was not limited to London or “the bubble of Whitehall”, one senior civil servant based in Northern Ireland said.

They noted that they regard their Whitehall colleagues as having “extra responsibility” to “set an example” to satellite offices up and down the UK and in UK government sites overseas. They said that they “feel very let down”.

Another quipped that staff seemed to have spent their entire “London weighting” on booze, in reference to the additional salary awarded to officials in the capital in order to meet higher living costs, and that they ought to have it revoked.

“I want people to know that this is not how all civil servants were behaving during lockdowns. Many of us have families with health concerns, our own reasons to shield, or took risks at work only, strictly, where we had to in order to keep things running,” the official based in Northern Ireland said.

The prime minister said he took “full responsibility” for the law-breaking events, which he bitterly regretted.

Ms Gray said she remained “immensely proud” to be a civil servant.

A government spokesperson said: “Following the completion of the Metropolitan Police Service investigation and publication of Sue Gray’s report, all allegations of misconduct by civil servants and special advisers will be pursued in line with existing policies.

“Following the long-standing practice of successive administrations, any specific HR action against individuals will remain confidential.”

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