Education & Family

Gove 'not informed of bullying adviser claim', MPs told

Michael Gove had not been told about claims of bullying by his advisers, a senior civil servant told MPs.

The education secretary had been called by the education select committee to answer further questions about a bullying claim in his department.

But permanent secretary, Chris Wormald, said it was "standard practice" not to inform ministers about such cases.

Labour MP Ian Mearns has since written with more questions for Mr Gove about the behaviour of an adviser.

The committee of MPs had recalled Mr Gove and Mr Wormald to clarify evidence given by the education secretary in a previous hearing, where he had told MPs he had not known of allegations of advisers in his department acting inappropriately.

Mr Wormald confirmed on Wednesday that ministers would not have known of a grievance case in the Department for Education involving claims of bullying.

Mr Gove told MPs that "procedures had been followed at every point".

He said the first he had heard of the grievance case involving an adviser was when he was contacted about a report running the following day in the Observer newspaper.

Source of briefings

The education secretary was also challenged over the source of briefings against former education minister Tim Loughton, but he said that his advisers had denied involvement.

When asked about "inappropriate behaviour" by special advisers in attacks on individual journalists, Mr Gove rejected an "inappropriate" line of questioning.

But in a follow up, Mr Mearns wrote to Mr Gove saying he had "refused to answer questions about an alleged breach of the code of conduct for special advisers".

Mr Mearns asked Mr Gove what action he would take about a special adviser sending a "deeply offensive and prejudiced" email to a journalist.

Mr Gove and Mr Wormald had been recalled to answer questions about a senior civil servant's allegations of bullying by one of the secretary of state's special advisers, Dominic Cummings, and James Frayne, his department's former head of communications.

A Department for Education report into the allegations, written by a high-ranking civil servant, found no grounds for disciplinary action, but acknowledged the two men had been "perceived as intimidating" at times and that bad language had been used.

The case was to be heard in an employment tribunal, with the secretary of state listed as the respondent.

But the Department for Education settled the case with a reported £25,000 pay-out before it got to an open court hearing.

On 23 January, Mr Gove was asked by Mr Mearns whether he was "aware of allegations of Spads [special advisers] acting inappropriately to civil servants within the department"? Mr Gove had answered: "No".

The committee had recalled Mr Gove and Mr Wormald to further clarify what they had known.

Mr Wormald told MPs that he had known about the grievance case, but as an investigation had not upheld the complaint he had not told ministers.

Mr Mearns asked whether it was right not to tell ministers of such claims against special advisers, when ministers had responsibility for their behaviour.

Mr Wormald had said that if claims of misbehaviour had been upheld, he would have brought this to the attention of ministers.

Under the ministerial code, the responsibility for the management and conduct of special advisers, including discipline, rests with the minister who made the appointment.

The code says: "Individual ministers will be accountable to the prime minister, Parliament and the public for their actions and decisions in respect of their special advisers."

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