On 27 April 2015, I submitted papers to the case officer handling my Civil Service Code case. The case, put simply, was that I was being forced by senior managers to commit breaches of the Code via their misinforming our Minister.
The Code states:
As a civil servant, you are appointed on merit on the basis of fair and open competition and are expected to carry out your role with dedication and a commitment to the Civil Service and its core values: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. In this code:
- ‘integrity’ is putting the obligations of public service above your own personal interests
- ‘honesty’ is being truthful and open
- ‘objectivity’ is basing your advice and decisions on rigorous analysis of the evidence
- ‘impartiality’ is acting solely according to the merits of the case and serving equally well governments of different political persuasions
My case officer was appointed by Samantha, the overall head of our unit, who herself was complicit in the breaches. I and my union official objected to this appointment but were told we had to accept it. With what I have learned since I would definitely not accept it, and instead insist on a more independent person running the case. Below is my overview paper.
Terry Edge – Civil Service Case Overview, April 2015
This case revolves around the Department's largest 'Out' project under the Red Tape Challenge. In essence, it was to bring about a change to the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 that would save industry millions of pounds per year, make UK furniture greener and more fire-safe, as well as put right problems with the current flammability requirements.
Against my better judgement, senior management pressured me to bring forward the money-savings changes, ahead of the overall amendments I'd been working on, so that the current government could claim the credit. Along with Steve Owen (of Intertek), BIS's technical advisor, I brought the changes in on time, under enormous pressure from Ministers, BRT, senior civil servants, etc.
However, following the public consultation, and due to a combination of insufficient knowledge, lack of trust in the experts working for them, professional jealousy and career risk-aversion, Barbara Middlemiss (my Grade 5) and John Lord (my line manager, Grade 6) misinformed the Minister in such a way that the project has now been delayed by at least a year (and probably considerably more).
I believe their actions constitute a breach of the Civil Service Code and their insistence I follow their direction puts me in danger of such a breach; also that their persistent undermining of my work and reputation in order to protect their mistakes constitutes bullying.
Examples of misinformation:
- Assured the Minister that extra research work was needed to prove the validity of the test when this wasn't true (and they now admit it isn't)
- Briefed the Minister that negative criticisms of the proposals were valid even though there was no evidence to support them
- Ignored the advice of a group of leading experts who informed them that BIS had proven the case for the changes - and continued to brief the Minister that more work needed to be done
- Gave in to vested interests, criminal in one case at least, that wanted the changes delayed/stopped
- Failed to inform the Minister that stakeholders had lied and/or provided false information at a round table meeting
- Deliberately obscured and withheld the truth in the government response to the public consultation on the proposed changes, in order to mislead the public into believing that more work was needed, and caused other government Ministers to sign off the response without having the evidence required to make a valid decision.
- Deliberately failed to answer a single question raised by consultation responses despite me having provided them with answers to allthe questions raised
As a consequence:
- Extra fire deaths and many more house fires will ensue
- Trading Standards cannot prosecute cases (leading to more non-compliant furniture getting into the UK, leading to more deaths and house fires)
- UK furniture will continue to contain large amounts of flame retardant chemicals now known to damage health and the environment
- Retailers such as XXX will be forced to continue selling unsafe products and face damaging public outrage if the media finds out, along with possible huge costs of recalling literally millions of products
- Large-scale criminal activity will continue
Because I refused to support their efforts to misinform the Minister, in what I believe is a breach of the Civil Service Code, they have subjected me to bullying in the following ways:
- Consistently undermined my work and reputation
- Sabotaged submissions to the Minister which would have made her aware of the truth behind the proposed changes
- Caused me huge stress by not trusting my work (or that of Steve Owen)
- Damaged my reputation with stakeholders
- Exaggerated/lied about my behaviour towards stakeholders
- Presented falsified evidence at my end-year review to suggest I have a behavioural problem with stakeholders
- Used my end-year review unfairly, and against all the evidence to the contrary, as a tool to build a counter-argument to this Civil Service Code case
- Tried to lever me out of my post (and may still do so)
I have evidence to support all the claims made above.
The key point is that all the necessary research and testing work to support the proposed changes had been completed by the time of the consultation launch on 7th August 2014 – as agreed by John Lord and signed off by the Minister. This was further confirmed by a meeting of the UK’s leading test experts at BIS on 21st November 2014. By the time of the Ministers’ round table meeting on 9th February 2015, the majority of stakeholders present had had nearly two years in which to present BIS with any ‘further work’ which those with vested interests claimed needed doing. In the event, all that was put forward at that meeting as further work was that BIS should commission British Standards Institute to spend a further 12 months working on a test foam formula that already exists in the current Regulations and was including in the proposals in the consultation document.
Barbara and John originally claimed to believe that extra work could be done. Later, they admitted that this was not the case but that we had to be seen to do something because “it’s what the Minister wants” (but because they had briefed her so). They are now claiming that every view by any stakeholder is valid, even if there is no evidence to back it up; that, if a stakeholder claims there is more work to be done but doesn’t know what it is, that is still something BIS should take seriously and delay accordingly.
This view is further undermined by the fact that neither Barbara nor John has sought for or come up with a single piece of additional work that needs doing, despite having had 8 months (since the consultation launch) in which to contact a huge choice of stakeholders. Similarly, they have intentionally and systematically ignored the evidence in favour of the proposed changes.
Also key to the case is John Lord’s behaviour in delaying the implementation of the proposed changes. I believe this was motivated mainly by professional jealousy and (self-confessed) risk-aversion. The first delay was caused by him going to private office when the first submission was sent up, to tell the Minister’s Private Secretary, [TB], that “these changes are probably not going ahead”. This act alone meant we then faced a huge uphill struggle to convince the Minister and get the changes through in time. On at least two more occasions, I heard John on the phone to [TB] sabotaging submissions (that had been agreed by him and Barbara Middlemiss): once, to tell her a submission would not be going up (in time to meet a critical deadline) because it “wasn’t working”; another time, she phoned him and he agreed with her that “it just isn’t working; the Minister just doesn’t understand”.
Another key delay he caused was with work on the consultation responses. He instigated a complicated spreadsheet which the response team found very time-consuming to fill in. By the deadline for completing the work, only about a quarter of the returns had been processed. I invited Steve Owen to come to BIS and help me go through the responses and we completed them all in two days. John refused to use this work; instead he set up another team – including at least one person with no experience of the Regulations – with the result that the processing work took nearly three weeks.
By the time the Minister reached the final deadline to enable implementation in April 2015, she was still being given mixed messages by our team, exacerbated by the delays, with the result she informed other Red Tape Challenge Ministers that she did not have enough information to be able to go ahead with the changes in time.
Terry Edge, April 2015