Staff at 10 Downing Street felt unable to raise concerns about the behaviours they witnessed at work during the pandemic, which included ‘excessive alcohol consumption’, Sue Gray’s investigation into alleged gatherings during lockdowns has found.
Publishing a long-awaited update into her findings today, the senior civil servant blamed a “failure of leadership” and noted that some events on government premises in 2020 and 2021 should not have been allowed to take place.
Gray investigated 16 separate gatherings that took place at 10 Downing Street and Whitehall at times where Covid-19 restrictions on socialising were in place for the general public.
Many of these gatherings are separately being investigated by the Metropolitan Police.
“Against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify,” the report says.
“At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.”
Gray found that the gardens of 10 and 11 Downing Street were at times used as an extension of the workplace to enable meetings to take place in a more ventilated area.
“This was a sensible measure that staff appreciated, but the garden was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight. This was not appropriate,” the report says.
The report highlights evidence of “excessive” consumption of alcohol, which it says “is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time”.
“Steps must be taken to ensure that every government department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace,” it recommends.
Some staff wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work, but felt unable to.
“No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it. There should be easier ways for staff to raise such concerns informally, outside of the line management chain,” the report recommends.
Finally, the report suggests that the Prime Minister addresses the structure of his office, which has steadily increased in size over recent years, with Gray finding that leadership structures “are fragmented and complicated”. This has sometimes led to the “blurring of lines of accountability”.
The report concluded that “there is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across government”.
Boris Johnson accepted Gray’s findings in full and apologised in a statement delivered in the House of Commons this afternoon (31 January).
“I am sorry for the things we simply didn’t get right and also sorry for the way this matter has been handled,” he said, as he promised to overhaul the way Downing Street is run.
Gray’s team of senior civil servants in the Cabinet Office interviewed more than 70 individuals and examined emails, WhatsApp messages, text messages, photographs and building exit and entry logs.