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Thursday 10 November 2022

Williamson allegations shows Sunak must appoint ethics adviser

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The FDA has responded to allegations against the former Minister without Portfolio Gavin Williamson, first published in the Guardian. The FDA highlighted the gulf that remains between Rishi Sunak’s intention to govern with integrity and the reality for government officials. 

General Secretary Dave Penman told BBC News that the entire process for civil servants to make a complaint against a minister “is a sham”. Appearing on Sky News, Penman described the first step Sunak could take to improve the process: “There’s a lot that government can do to rebuild trust but one of the first ones would be for the Prime Minister to recognize he urgently needs to have an ethics adviser. If those complaints were brought today against a minister, any minister, by a civil servant, there is no way for them even to be investigated.”

On Times Radio, Penman went further, arguing that if the Prime Minister really wants to govern with integrity he should introduce a fully independent process to allow civil servants to raise complaints against a minister, “like there is in Parliament and Scottish Government”. Penman elaborated this point on Newsnight, telling Victoria Derbyshire that under the current system “the Prime Minister not only decides if there is an investigation, the Prime Minister alone decides on the outcome”. A fully independent process would give an ethics adviser the power to adequately investigate complaints without a veto from a Prime Minister. 

Directly referencing the conduct of Williamson, the FDA’s General Secretary reflected on the fact he started his ministerial career by bringing his pet tarantula into the office and putting it on his desk. asking ITV’s Harry Horton “what does that say about his approach to his job when he feels that actually people coming into his office should feel intimidated?”.

Penman continued that Williamson’s resignation cannot be the end of the matter, as he must face the appropriate investigations into his conduct to either clear his name or face the consequences. “His resignation cannot be a ‘get out of jail free card’”, Penman told Radio 4’s The World Tonight.

However, when speaking to Andrew Marr on LBC, Penman stressed that this story is bigger than Williamson, arguing “it's about whether the government has a meaningful way of holding ministers to account for their conduct.” FDA Assistant General Secretary, Steven Littlewood, reinforced this point on LBC – this issue is about civil servants trusting that if they need to make a complaint against a minister, the system in place will be able to deliver justice.

Penman also appeared on Talk TV with Julia Hartley-Brewer and was quoted in the Financial Times, The Independent, The i, The Evening Standard, The Irish Examiner, The National, City AM and the MailOnline

The General Secretary’s interviews were also syndicated hourly across all local and national BBC radio news, plus LBC, TalkSport and a number of commercial radio stations. 
2nd May 2019
Gavin Williamson's remarks that he was sacked as Defence Secretary because of a "vendetta" of Sir Mark Sedwill were roundly rebuked by FDA General Secretary Dave Penman.
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