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Civil Service chief wants 'courteous' ministers after Priti Patel row

Civil Service chief Mark Sedwill says ministers should behave ‘professionally and courteously’ towards officials as he faces grilling from MPs in the wake of the Priti Patel Home Office bullying row

  • Sir Mark questioned on relationship between ministers and top civil servants
  • He appeared at the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee
  • Came amid the fall-out from the resignation of Home Office’s Philip Rutnam
  • He accused Home Secretary Ms Patel of bullying, a claim she denies 

Ministers should behave ‘professionally and courteously’ in their dealings with their officials, the head of the Civil Service told MPs today amid the fallout from the Priti Patel bullying row. 

Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill faced MPs this morning to discuss the relationship between senior ministers and top civil servants in their departments.

His appearance at the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee came amid the fall-out from the resignation of the Home Office’s permanent secretary, Philip Rutnam. 

Appearing at the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the Commons this morning, Sir Mark refused to address the case directly, citing Mr Rutnam’s legal action.

However, he said there was an ‘expectation’ that senior officials should seek to build a ‘relationship of confidence and trust’ with the ministers they work for.

‘Our expectation is that these are professional people – as in any big organisation. The job of the Civil Service is to support ministers, build a relationship of confidence and trust with them,’ he said.

‘The expectation on ministers also to conduct themselves professionally and courteously and try to get the best out of their Civil Service team.       

Sir Mark Sedwill appeared before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the Commons this morning

Ms Patel has faced a barrage of claims about her behaviour at the Home Office and in previous roles at International Development and the Treasury, which she denies

‘That is the most effective way of delivering the Government’s agenda. If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work and we will take whatever the appropriate action might be.’

Sir Mark said he did not think a stronger definition of bullying needed to be added to the Ministerial Code which governs behaviour in public office. 

‘There are well established definitions of this, I don’t think we need to the codes themselves,’ he said in relation to a question from Tory MP David Jones.

Sir Mark told MPs he did not think there needed to be a more formal process to allow permanent secretaries to air grievances about a minister’s conduct.

He said the fallout between former Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam and Ms Patel was “regrettable”.

Asked whether the “informality of the process was wanting”, Sir Mark told the committee: “I don’t think so because I think this is clearly a very regrettable incident.

“I regret Philip Rutnam’s decision to resign and hoped it could have been avoided. We have to allow that case and indeed the other investigation to take their course.

“I don’t think we should necessarily try to write further regulations around relationships when the vast majority of cases are conducted professionally and in accordance with both the letter and the spirit of the various codes.

“There are tensions and differences, we deal with those when they arise. In general, I think the mechanisms we have available to us are adequate to the task.”

Addressing the relationship between ministers and their senior civil servants Sir Mark said most partnerships were ‘extremely effective’ and he would expect differences to be ‘resolved in private between them’.

‘If they cannot I might be asked to become involved,’ he added. 

Sir Philip, who branded Miss Patel a liar and a bully, is suing the government for constructive dismissal.

In a bombshell resignation statement, he accused Miss Patel, 47, of ‘shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands’. 

It prompted an avalanche of claims against Boris Johnson’s highest ranking female minister, all of which she denies.

Claims against Ms Patel include the allegation she ‘dressed down’ staff in front of their colleagues and asked: ‘Why is everyone so f***ing useless?’

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