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Friday 05 July 2019

FDA defends civil servants from attacks from across the political spectrum

John Wellings

As well as being quoted on the cover of the Times and writing an opinion piece for Red Box this week, General Secretary Dave Penman has also appeared on Talk Radio defending civil servants (not available on catch-up).

Responding to Jeremy Hunt’s threat to cancel August leave for all civil servants if he’s not happy with preparations for leaving the EU without a deal, Penman told Talk Radio’s Mike Graham: “Civil servants are already working flat out to deliver the Government’s will. The problem is the Government doesn’t know what its will is.”

The General Secretary’s comments on this issue were picked up in an article by the Press Association, and subsequently distributed through the national and regional press. The Express; Metro; the Express and Star; and the Belfast Telegraph all reported on his remarks.

Penman also responded to a Times report that civil servants had expressed concerns that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is “too frail” to lead the country, as well as the subsequent call from Corbyn and Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Jon Trickett for an independent investigation into what they saw as a potential breach of civil service neutrality.

Stating that the Times had reported “tittle-tattle over coffee” as if it was the settled view of the service, Penman said such an accusation was “frankly insulting to committed public servants” who respect civil service impartiality.

The FT, the Times, Politics Home and Civil Service World also reported the General Secretary’s comments.

Finally in a particularly busy week, Politico also reported Penman’s response to stories that a number of prominent civil servants working on Brexit are leaving their positions, including the Prime Minister’s Europe Adviser Olly Robbins.

The General Secretary said that while each individual official’s reasons for leaving a Brexit role would be different, a combination of “burnout” and frustration with “relentless attacks” on civil service impartiality are playing a part.

Writing to members this week, Penman explained that, due to these relentless attacks on civil servants from across the political spectrum, it has become clear that “a more informed debate on the impartiality of the civil service and why it’s vital for effective government was needed”.

As such, the General Secretary announced that the FDA, in collaboration with the Smith Institute, has commissioned a report that explores these issues from the perspective of those who have experience of government. The report, which will be launched in the House of Lords on Wednesday 10 July, contains contributions from Nicola Sturgeon, Lord Heseltine, Carwyn Jones, Sir Bob Kerslake, David Normington and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, among others.

“Following the publication of the report,” Penman added. “In conjunction with the Smith Institute, we will be hosting debates at the Labour, Liberal democrat, Conservative and SNP party conferences. I know how strongly you feel when your impartiality and integrity is questioned. The FDA has been defending those principles for a century now and I wanted to assure you that, as they face an almost unprecedented challenge, we are stepping up our defence.”

16th May 2024
Catch up on the keynote speeches from Dave Penman and Mark Drakeford from this year's Annual Delegate Conference
10th May 2024
At this year's FDA Annual Delegate Conference attendees heard from keynote speakers Dave Penman, Cat Little, Mark Drakeford and Paul Whiteman.
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