Former ethics chief quits, leaving Patel the last one standing

By on 22/01/2021
Helen MacNamara, the UK’s deputy cabinet secretary who investigated bullying allegations against home secretary Priti Patel (pictured), is leaving government. Credit: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr

Helen MacNamara, the UK’s deputy cabinet secretary and the civil service’s former head of propriety and ethics, is to leave government next month for a new job as director of policy and corporate affairs at the Premier League. 

Her departure comes after that of Sir Alex Allan, the PM’s independent adviser on ministerial standards. Allan quit in November, when PM Boris Johnson declined to act on the findings of MacNamara’s inquiry into bullying allegations against home secretary Priti Patel.

In her propriety and ethics job, MacNamara investigated multiple allegations of bullying against Patel – including those by former home office permanent secretary Philip Rutnam, who quit in February 2020 and took his former employer to an employment tribunal. MacNamara subsequently became deputy cabinet secretary, and no action was taken on her Patel report. After leaks to the media revealed officials’ concern about the delay, the report was examined by Allan.

Allan subsequently concluded that the home secretary had “not consistently met the high standards required by the ministerial code.” When the PM refused to act on his advice, Allan quit. As former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell commented, Allan “said: ‘Well look, if you don’t value my judgement then there’s really little point in me carrying on with this job’, so he’s resigned.”

The episode prompted Lord Evans, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, to raise “serious questions about the effectiveness of the current arrangements for investigating and responding to breaches of the Ministerial Code.”

New goals

In her new role, MacNamara will help shape the Premier League’s relationship with government – helping to address tensions caused by the pandemic and bailout negotiations with the English Football League.

After her departure was announced on Thursday, the government’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments published a letter approving her appointment, while asking her not to begin work for three months. It also said that she should neither lobby government or advise the Premier League on government contracts for a period of two years.

Prior to taking the propriety and ethics job three years ago, MacNamara had overseen housing and planning at the communities department. She was previously director of the economic and domestic secretariat in the Cabinet Office, working for the cabinet secretary from 2013 to 2016. She was responsible for brokering collective agreement in the coalition government, coordinating government preparations for the 2015 General Election and contingency preparations for the Greek Eurozone crisis. 

Cabinet secretary Simon Case praised her work, saying that she “has been instrumental in transforming the Cabinet Office over the last three years and I am especially grateful for the personal support she has given to me in my role. She will be greatly missed and I hope that she may one day return to the Civil Service.” 

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