The Public and Commercial Services Union have called for an independent inquiry into bullying in the civil service, as pressure grows on the Home Secretary Priti Patel.
The embattled home secretary, Priti Patel, may have the backing of the Prime Minister, who said this week that he is “sticking by” her, but trade union leaders have claimed that civil servants have been subjected to inappropriate behaviour on a daily basis during her time in different departments.
Allegations of bullying have been made against Priti Patel from officials at the three ministries she has most recently worked – the Home Office, the Department for International Development and the Department for Work and Pensions. While Ms Patel has denied all allegations of bullying, the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has announced an internal investigation to “establish the facts” after Sir Philip Rutnam – the permanent secretary at the Home Office – announced his shock resignation at the weekend.
The inquiry will investigate whether Ms Patel broke the ministerial code, as allies of the home secretary have suggested the allegations of bullying are a response to her rightwing and populist stance on policies such as immigration.
However, Dave Penman – general secretary of the FDA union which is representing Sir Philip in his claim for constructive dismissal – has insisted that the allegations are related solely to Priti Patel’s treatment of civil service staff, not any policy disagreements.
Mr Penman said of the members of staff his union is representing:
“They’re absolutely clear. This is not in relation to any issue of an argument or difference of opinion around a policy area. This is about general behaviour — this is day in, day out.”
His statements were echoed by Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS union which represents junior civil servants, who said: “This government has presided over a bullying culture within the civil service which they have failed to tackle.”
In response to a letter sent by Ms Patel to Home Office staff this week which called for unity in the department, Mr Serwotka called for an independent inquiry into the bullying allegations:
“…it’s a bit rich of Priti Patel to talk about coming together when questions around her role in bullying claims remain unanswered.
“There should be an independent inquiry into bullying in the civil service.
“Our union along with others have been working with the cabinet office arguing for a clear procedure on handling complaints of bullying, discrimination and harassment, particularly regarding allegations against ministers MPs and Special Advisers.
“Despite assurances that this would become part of the ministerial code, this appears to have been abandoned.”