The Civil Service Is Rewriting HR Rules To Rein In Number 10 And Dominic Cummings

    The move follows Cummings' claim that anyone suffering from “personal crises” such as stress or bereavement should leave their jobs.

    Dominic Cummings
    Tolga Akmen / Getty Images

    Dominic Cummings

    Mark Sedwill, the head of the civil service, has moved to rein in Boris Johnson’s chief aide, Dominic Cummings, by taking the unprecedented step of appointing a senior official to rewrite Whitehall HR rules and ensure special advisers are treated with “respect”.

    The cabinet office is advertising for a “Special Advisers' HR Policy Lead” to “revise and embed a full suite of HR policies, processes and principles”, following a series of disputes between Cummings and ministerial aides.

    A senior Whitehall official told BuzzFeed News the role has been created in response to high-level concerns within the civil service about the treatment of special advisers by Number 10, and fears that the prime minister’s team has broken employment law.

    The decision by senior officials to act comes after BuzzFeed News learnt that special advisers have been in contact with the FDA trade union — which represents civil servants — to discuss their treatment at the hands of Downing Street aides.

    The advertisement for the £60,000-a-year post describes it as a “high profile and stretching role” that involves working in “challenging circumstances” to produce new HR policies for special advisers based on “treating everyone with respect” and “build[ing] trust”.

    The successful candidate will have to “manage complex and sensitive ER [employee relations] cases and provide advice to senior leaders, ensuring legislation/process is followed”. They will work in the cabinet office’s propriety and ethics team led by Helen MacNamara, who has come under criticism from several former special advisers for her handling of workplace complaints.

    In what appears to be a rebuke to Cummings’ management style, the advertisement says the official will need to “create an inclusive working environment where all opinions and challenges are taken into account”.

    “All officials and special advisers are public servants who must behave in accordance with the law at all times, and follow the relevant codes of conduct. This role will drive continuous improvements in the running of the special adviser HR team and ensure that special advisers receive appropriate HR support and advice,” a senior official told BuzzFeed News.

    Christof Stache / Getty Images

    Mark Sedwill

    On Friday evening, Cummings shocked government advisers by claiming that anyone suffering from “personal crises” should leave their jobs, saying their roles were “tough” and suggesting they were incompatible with personal issues such as bereavement.

    He made the remarks in response to a BuzzFeed News story revealing that aides had sought counselling for stress over their jobs.

    At a meeting of special advisers before the reshuffle, Cummings provoked further outcry when he told government aides that he would “see half of you next week”. Ministry of Defence adviser Lynn Davidson later criticised Cummings for his “unkindness”.

    Last year, Sonia Khan, a treasury media adviser, was sacked by Cummings in controversial circumstances, with an armed police officer escorting her out of Downing Street. Khan is believed to be in line for a significant taxpayer-funded payout following her dismissal.

    A cabinet office spokesperson said: "In December 2018 the then Government announced it would be reviewing how special advisers’ terms could be made clearer and more consistent. This is a routine appointment to the existing team to support this ongoing work and does not constitute a change to the way special advisers are managed."

    Alex Wickham is a senior reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Alex Wickham at alex.wickham@buzzfeed.com.

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