PCS angered By Prime Minister's failure to deal with Home Secretary's bullying

20 Nov 2020

PCS reacts with anger as the Prime Minister refuses to take action over bullying by the Home Secretary after inquiry says she broke rules on ministers’ behaviour.

Many PCS members working in the Home Office and associated organisations will be aware of the ongoing bullying investigation into the Home Secretary which was linked to the resignation of the last Permanent Secretary.  Members disappointment at the slow process of this investigation will now be shocked by the Prime Minister’s lack of action against Priti Patel now that the report has concluded.

Boris Johnson has refused to release the investigation report however a summary of the findings has been published.  The findings state that;

“The evidence is that [the Home Secretary’s behaviour] has manifested itself in forceful expression, including some occasions of shouting and swearing. This may not be done intentionally to cause upset, but that has been the effect on some individuals.”

Whilst the caveat of intent has been added, members will be surprised that shouting and swearing could ever be viewed as acceptable workplace behaviour.  Furthermore, members in the Home Office will be aware of our own BHD policy which states that;

“Bullying is not about whether the perpetrator of the acts intended them or not, but about the impact on the recipient and how it makes them feel.”

PCS condemns the shameful response of the Prime Minister and his failure to act.  His actions have also now resulted in the resignation of the author of the report and Cabinet Ethics Advisor Sir Alex Allan, giving a clear indication of his thoughts about the matter. 

The failure to take decisive action undermines Home Office policies on bullying and harassment and the credibility of claims that there is a zero-tolerance approach to this in the workplace.  Furthermore, the individuals who brought these complaints have been let down by the process and this will fuel the belief that bringing complaints is not worth the trouble and ultimately lead to victims deterred from coming forward.

It’s clear that behaviours at the top of the organisation filter down, and that the toxic working environment in the HQ building that a number of members report has been aggravated rather than diminished.  The Home Secretary has now responded to the report stating that;

“I am sorry that my behaviour in the past has upset people.”

Unfortunately, this apology is reminiscent of her previous statement around PPE earlier in the year saying she was;

“sorry if people feel there have been failings.”

These statements project the blame to the complainants.  There have now been allegations of behaviours in breach of the Ministerial Code by the Priti Patel, successively in the DWP, DfID and now Home Office.  The apologies of the Home Secretary unfortunately betray an individual unable to accept personal responsibility for her persistent behaviours and their impact on others.

As civil servants the result of the investigation reeks of one rule for Ministers and another for us.  PCS has worked closely with Home Office working collaboratively on dealing with bullying and harassment, and this has been supported up to Permanent Secretary level. However, the Prime Minister’s response significantly undermines the positive progress we have been able to achieve.

The statement released as part of the global email from Matthew Rycroft has fanned flames rather than ameliorated feelings.  PCS calls on the Prime Minister to reflect on his decision not to discipline or sanction Priti Patel. The Home Secretary, rather than talk about herself and her own drive to deliver, should reflect on how her behaviours have affected her staff and the stress and hurt she has caused.

PCS will continue fight to change the culture within the Home Office. We are committed to protecting any member subject to bullying.

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