27 April 2023

Sunak ‘not aware of any informal concerns about Steve Barclay’s conduct’

27 April 2023

Ministers must be able to “robustly” challenge civil servants, Downing Street has insisted, as it denied Rishi Sunak has ever been made aware of informal concerns about Steve Barclay’s conduct.

The Health Secretary has become the latest member of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet to face bullying allegations, with officials from his department reportedly having spoken privately of “bad behaviour”.

The Guardian quoted Whitehall sources as saying Mr Barclay regularly “blasted” staff and on occasions “deliberately ignored” colleagues who tried to talk to him.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson denied he had ever been told of any informal concerns about the minister’s behaviour, adding: “The Health Secretary is delivering for the public and working hard to cut the waiting lists so people can get the care they need more quickly.

“The Prime Minister expects ministers to drive delivery in their department.

“Ministers should be able to test and challenge civil servants and their political advisers robustly, and hold departments to account to deliver for the public.”

It comes after Foreign Secretary James Cleverly defended his Cabinet colleague as “absolutely not” a bully while touring broadcast studios on Thursday morning.

Mr Cleverly said the minister had given a “clear and completely unambiguous” response to the allegations.

Mr Barclay has not commented publicly but allies “totally deny” he is a bully.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it had not received any formal complaints over the behaviour of its ministers, but did not deny being aware of informal concerns.

Mr Cleverly told Sky News: “I’ve worked with him on a number of occasions.

“He has made a statement making it absolutely clear that there have been no reports.

“His statement is clear and completely unambiguous, and I am completely convinced that that is accurate.”

The Guardian quoted unnamed sources as having complained to the department’s top mandarin about Mr Barclay’s “challenging” behaviour.

They said he was “constantly angry” and “hauls people over the coals and is generally a bit unpleasant,” according to the newspaper.

A source close to the Health Secretary said: “No complaint has been made.”

Asked whether they denied bullying, they said: “Totally deny.”

Downing Street said there were “established processes” through which civil servants can raise concerns, with complaints being dealt with through specific departments.

A DHSC spokesman said: “The department has not received any formal complaints relating to the behaviour of its ministers.

“Any complaints, relating to ministers or members of staff, would be investigated in line with departmental guidance.”

It comes after Dominic Raab’s resignation as deputy prime minister and justice secretary last week when an independent inquiry found he had bullied civil servants.

Adam Tolley KC’s five-month investigation into eight formal complaints about Mr Raab’s conduct found he had behaved in a way that “undermines or humiliates” while foreign secretary and criticised the work of civil servant staff as “woeful” and “utterly useless” while justice secretary.

The concerns over Mr Barclay pre-date the release of the Tolley report, according to the Guardian.

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