Sue Gray’s report on Alleged gatherings on Government premises during COVID restrictions was published today, 25 May. It concludes as follows:
- Against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the Government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify.
- At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.
- At times it seems there was too little thought given to what was happening across the country in considering the appropriateness of some of these gatherings, the risks they presented to public health and how they might appear to the public. There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times. Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.
- The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time. Steps must be taken to ensure that every Government Department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.
- The use of the garden at No 10 Downing Street should be primarily for the Prime Minister and the private residents of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street. During the pandemic it was often used as an extension of the workplace as a more covid secure means of holding group meetings in a ventilated space. This was a sensible measure that staff appreciated, but the garden was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight. This was not appropriate. Any official access to the space, including for meetings, should be by invitation only and in a controlled environment.
- Some staff wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so. No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it. There should be easier ways for staff to raise such concerns informally, outside of the line management chain.
- The number of staff working in No 10 Downing Street has steadily increased in recent years. In terms of size, scale and range of responsibility it is now more akin to a small Government Department than purely a dedicated Prime Minister’s office. The structures that support the smooth operation of Downing Street, however, have not evolved sufficiently to meet the demands of this expansion. The leadership structures are fragmented and complicated and this has sometimes led to the blurring of lines of accountability. Too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the Prime Minister. This should be addressed as a matter of priority.
24.The gatherings within the scope of this investigation are spread over a 20-month period – a period that has been unique in recent times in terms of the complexity and breadth of the demands on public servants and indeed the general public. The whole of the country rose to the challenge. Ministers, special advisers and the Civil Service, of which I am proud to be a part, were a key and dedicated part of that national effort. However, as I have noted, a number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did. There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across Government. This does not need to wait for the police investigations to be concluded.”
Which may seem of little obvious relevance to “law and religion”. However, as Sir Roger Gale, MP for Thanet North, pointed out in various media interviews before the report was published in relation to so-called “leaving dos” at Number 10:
“the most eternal form of leaving is a funeral, and scores of my constituents had to attend a funeral without being able to raise a glass in the company of friends for the departed.”
A devastating comment from Sir Roger Gale, which will resonate with all of us who missed important funerals.
“There should be easier ways for staff to raise concerns informally”. Yes, but what are those ways? Has any organisation got a good answer to this? How about a retired senior figure with clout to whom informal complaints can be made, perhaps anonymously?
Very Frank, Forthright & Hard Hitting Report. Language & Expressions used very mild. Dr.S.K.Pachauri IAS Retd