Starmer’s job offer to Sue Gray giving ‘easy ammunition’ to critics

Sue Gray report: The key points on Downing Street parties

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Sir Keir Starmer’s “unprecedented” decision to offer Sue Gray a role as his next chief of staff has handed Labour critics “easy ammunition”, a former civil servant has warned. Alex Thomas from the Institute for Government (IfG) says Ms Gray’s move from the civil service to a Government position could make it more difficult for service officials and ministers to “work together” with impartiality and build an “environment of trust”. Sir Keir and Ms Gray will have to make sure her knowledge from her civil service career does not interfere with Government work and create a “conflict of interest”, the IfG’s programme director adds.

In a comment piece for the Institute for Government, the director leading the Institute’s work on civil service and policy-making said: “Her move straight from being a serving permanent secretary to the leader of the opposition’s chief adviser was bound to create an almighty row.

“It gives easy ammunition to those who claim that the civil service is resistant to serving the Government of the day, and risks making it harder for serving officials and ministers to work together and build an environment of trust.

“That is now the main concern for civil servants.”

Sue Gray’s appointment has sparked outrage among Conservative MPs who say her nomination has tainted the inquiry she led and that ultimately helped bring down Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

Former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg called for an inquiry into Ms Gray’s contacts with the Labour Party and said her decision to take a job with Labour “invalidates” her report into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson said her nomination raised questions over the conclusions of her inquiry, published in May last year, adding that people “may look at it in a different light”.

Bassetlaw MP Brendan Clarke-Smith said he was “genuinely shocked” and accused Mr Starmer of having “scant regard for the public image of the civil service and the damage this will do”.

Mr Starmer defended his decision, saying Ms Gray’s acceptance of the job was proof his party was a serious Government-in-waiting.

He said: “I want to ensure that we’re in a position to deliver for the whole of the United Kingdom and that’s why I’m so pleased that people of real quality, [who are] really respected, want to join the Labour team.”

He added: “I hope we can change from this failure of the last 30 years to the incoming Labour Government, and in that, I’m delighted that the really strong professional, respected individuals are now wanting to be part of that future.”

Mr Thomas also discarded Tories’ criticism saying those undermining her previous work as a civil servant are “wrong”.

However, he warned the Labour leader could have to wait until after the election to nominate Ms Gray because of committee rules.

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The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) says appointments can be subject to conditions such as a two-year waiting period before starting work and a ban on former civil servants lobbying for the Government on behalf of their new employers.

“The maximum two-year wait – which would mean Gray could not join Starmer until after the latest date for a general election – could look punitive – but a period above the three-month minimum might be reasonable given Gray’s prior role,” Mr Thomas said.

Ms Gray’s previous experience also means Mr Starmer will need to redouble efforts to avoid conflicts of interest and keep her away from some subjects.

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