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Tuesday 30 June 2020

FDA condemns “cowardly” briefings against Sir Mark Sedwill

Stefano Cagnoni

Following the announcement of Sir Mark Sedwill’s departure, FDA General Secretary Dave Penman has labelled the repeated anonymous briefings against the Cabinet Secretary as a “self-defeating and corrosive tactic”.

As reported on the front pages of Monday’s Telegraph, Guardian and Times, Penman praised Sir Mark as “one of the outstanding public servants of his generation” and stressed that “whatever emerges as fact from the series of briefings that have sought to undermine Sir Mark’s position, this government will emerge weaker as a result”.

While acknowledging that Cabinet Secretaries “inevitably” come and go – “that is the nature of the role” – the FDA General Secretary took issue with the way the situation had been handled.

He said: “If Sir Mark no longer has the confidence of the Prime Minister, for whatever reason, that is one thing. It can be dealt with in a grown-up way, finding a solution that suits both parties, rather than excluding someone who has dedicated their life to public service and has excelled at every role they’ve been asked to fill.

“Instead, No.10 – or those around it – has sought to undermine Sir Mark and the leadership of the civil service, with a series of anonymous briefings against him over many months. Not only is it a self-defeating and corrosive tactic, it’s also a cowardly one, safe in the knowledge that those who are briefed against are unable to publicly respond.

“How would any potential candidate for Cabinet Secretary judge their prospective employers, given how the current cadre of leaders has been treated by them?”

The General Secretary also responded to Sir Mark’s departure on the BBC News channel, Sky News, BBC Radio 5 Live and LBC. In a live appearance on BBC News, Penman reinforced his message that briefing against senior civil servants “undermines the ability of government to deliver”.

“If you’re the successor to Sir Mark, are you going to want to work there?,” he questioned. “Are you going to say ‘that’s the kind of viper’s nest that I’m looking to go into the moment I might disagree with them?’ It’s really self-defeating.”

Following the news that Sir Mark was leaving the civil service, the narrative also emerged that this was part of No. 10’s plan for civil service reform, reported as “hard rain” coming for the civil service. Speaking with Emma Barnett on Radio 5 Live (listen from 00:29), Penman didn’t shy away from the fact there was always a case for reform; “as the world changes, the civil service needs to change”. However, the General Secretary stressed that the UK civil service was internationally recognised as the best in the world for a reason and called on Ministers to “recognise its strengths as well as concentrating on the areas that need to improve”, a sentiment he reiterated in a live appearance on Sky News.

Penman was also quoted online by BBC News, the New European, the Herald, Politics Home, HuffPost UK, Mail Online, the Mirror and the Evening Standard.

Additionally, you can listen to Penman speak with Martin Stanford on LBC News (from 01:56:00) and on the Politics Home Podcast.

Finally – and perhaps illustrating the union’s powers of persuasion - Penman was also quoted by former Conservative leader William Hague in his weekly Telegraph column, who agreed with the General Secretary’s view that briefings against Sir Mark were “self-defeating and corrosive”.

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