Fears Raised That Serious Complaints About Ministers May Go Unheard For Months

When the last ethics chief resigned it took five months to find his successor.
Geidt and Johnson
Geidt and Johnson
Getty

Concerns have been raised that serious complaints about ministers may go unheard for months after Boris Johnson’s ethics chief quit.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union for senior civil servants, has written to the head of organisation outlining their fears.

He told cabinet secretary Simon Case the absence of an independent adviser will “materially impact” the confidence of civil servants in raising a complaint.

It comes after Lord Geidt, the PM’s independent adviser on ministers’ interests, quit claiming he was put in an “impossible and odious” position by Johnson.

Independent advisers can be asked to investigate breaches of the ministerial code in relation to complaints from civil servants - including allegations of bullying or sexual harassment.

Dave Penman [L] has written to Simon Case [R]
Dave Penman [L] has written to Simon Case [R]
Getty

Penman pointed out it took five months to replace Johnson’s previous ethics adviser, Sir Alex Allan, who quit in 2020 after Johnson overruled him over a report into alleged bullying by home secretary Priti Patel.

He also referred to comments by the prime minister’s spokesman that indicated it might take some time to replace Geidt with a broader review of the role underway.

In a letter seen by HuffPost UK, the union leader added: “The absence of an independent adviser to conduct such an investigation and make recommendations to the prime minister on their conclusions will materially impact the confidence of any civil servant in raising a complaint in the first place.”

Penman said they had concerns over the “lack of transparency and independence” in the current process, but added: “The independent adviser plays a crucial role in ensuring civil servants have confidence that any investigation will be thorough and critically, independent.

“Indeed, both Sir Alex Allan’s and Lord Geidt’s actions in discharging their duties whilst holding this role have reinforced this.”

He asked what arrangements were being put in place in the meantime, should civil servants need to raise a complaint about ministerial misconduct.

Penman added: “Finally, as you know, these are not theoretical issues but live ones for civil servants, and I would be grateful if you could give this matter your immediate attention.”

Geidt quit earlier this month saying he “could not be party to advising on potential law breaking”, initially thought to refer to a dispute over steel tariffs.

Although, subsequent reports suggested that was only one example of what he felt might yet constitute “deliberate breaches” under international law.

The cabinet office directed us to a letter Case sent Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner last week, in which he said: “The minister for the cabinet office made clear to the House of Commons on June 21 that it is the government’s intention to replace the independent adviser.

“Ministers are considering ways to improve the arrangements for the oversight of ministerial interests, and have committed to replacing the independent adviser in good time, following a review of the requirements of the role.”

Asked earlier this month if Geidt would be replaced, the PM’s spokesperson said: “We haven’t made a final decision on how best to carry out that function, whether it relates to a specific individual or not.”

He said Johnson would “carefully consider that before setting out the next steps”.

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