Priti Patel row adds to concerns over govt devaluing of workers’ rights

Senior civil servant Sir Philip Rutnam resigned last weekend before publicly launching a legal complaint against Home Secretary, Priti Patel.

6 Mar 2020

Rutnam, who was Permanent Secretary for the Home Office, will sue the government for constructive dismissal.

His claim includes allegations of bullying, including a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him. Her conduct at work included “shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable demands – behaviour that created fear and that needed some bravery to call out”, he said.

Since Rutnam’s resignation, two other senior civil servants have come forward to corroborate his story. One witnessed “bullying” at the Department for International Development when Patel was Secretary of State there. Another reportedly attempted suicide after being forced out of their job, then were paid a £25,000 settlement when they threatened to take the government to court.

These new revelations add to those made about the behaviour of Dominic Cummings, who is expected to face legal action after he had armed police frogmarch an aide out of Downing Street. Since that story emerged, two other allegations have hit the news. Lynn Davidson, an aide to Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, has been asked to leave her post after she criticised Cummings for his “unkindness”. Further, it has been revealed that Cummings was investigated for bullying staff when he was an advisor to Michael Gove. Although the internal investigation ‘cleared’ him of fault, the government rushed to settle the victim’s tribunal case out of court. The case was settled for £25,000.

What’s more, Head of senior civil servants’ union the FDA, Dave Penman, says that smears against the workers who have blow the whistle on the government’s behaviour are being actively encouraged by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

“What we are witnessing now is becoming a new norm,” he warned. “It’s also increasingly clear that this modus operandi is being led by No 10 and those around the Prime Minister.”

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, initially refused to confirm whether an inquiry would be launched into Patel’s behaviour at the Home Office, but Cabinet Officer Minister, Michael Gove, later told MPs that the Head of the Civil Service, Mark Sedwill, has been asked to “establish the facts”.

The repeated accusations of abuse by staff working for the new government has started Johnson’s administration off on a sour note. Unions will doubtlessly watch these cases closely to understand the government’s attitudes to workers’ rights.