06/10/2022

Buck should stop with prime minister for failures caused by political decisions, says frontbencher

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Labour has called for an investigation into the sacking of the Department for Educations top civil servant, amid anger that officials rather than ministers have carried the can for a series of policy failures.
A former head of the civil service described Jonathan Slaters removal as a complete disgrace which would fuel a corrosive relationship between ministers and Whitehall officials.
Shadow minister Helen Hayes said the buck for the summer exams fiasco and the failure to reopen schools as planned in June should stop with the prime minister, accusing Boris Johnson of scapegoating civil servants and being prepared to blame absolutely everybody but himself for problems caused by his political decisions.
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She stopped short of demanding the resignation of education secretary Gavin Williamson, telling BBC Radio 4s Today: That is the decision for the prime minister to take, and I hope that he will take a decision and that he wont U-turn on it in the future.
But she added: If Gavin Williamsons performance as education secretary was assessed by teachers, pupils and parents, he would given a D and it would probably be downgraded to a U.
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UK news in pictures
1/50 26 August
Giant waves at Seaham in County Durham, as the bad weather continues
2/50 25 August
An assistant at the Wallace Monument cleans the case which houses the William Wallace sword in the Hall of Arms room at the monument near Stirling as they prepare to re-open
3/50 24 August
Restored World War Two landing craft LCT 7074 is transported from from the Naval Base in Portsmouth to its final resting place at the D-Day Story at Southsea
4/50 23 August
Jenny Nguyen and Tony Cao, from Vietnam, pose for wedding photos on Tower Bridge in London, as it remains closed to vehicles after it was stuck open on Saturday due to a “mechanical fault”. The landmark’s Twitter account confirmed only pedestrians and cyclists could use it on Sunday morning
5/50 22 August
England’s Zak Crawley hit 267, joining the exclusive Double Hundred club, on day two of the Third Test match against Pakistan at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton
6/50 21 August
Harri Teale gathers lavender during the annual harvest on the Wolds Way Lavender farm near Malton in North Yorkshire
7/50 20 August
Parents and a student react after checking GCSE results at Ark Academy in London
8/50 19 August
Tate Modern workers hold a strike outside the gallery in London, to protest the institution’s announcement that it would cut more than 300 jobs from its commercial arm, Tate Enterprises
9/50 18 August
Two rescued brown bear cubs, Mish (left) and Lucy, cool off in a pool after arriving at their new home with the wildlife conservation charity Wildwood Trust in Herne Bay, Kent. The orphaned pair, who have been living in a temporary home in Belgium since they were found abandoned and alone in a snowdrift in the Albanian mountains, will be acclimatised to their new life in the country before moving to a permanent home
10/50 17 August
A level students celebrate outside the Department for Education in London after it was confirmed that candidates in England will be given grades estimated by their teachers, rather than by an algorithm. The government U-turn comes just days after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson vowed there would be “no U-turn, no change.
11/50 16 August
Wasp players take a knee as Northampton Saints stand prior to kick-off in their Premiership match at Franklin’s Gardens
12/50 15 August
Piper Colour Sergeant Lil Bahadur Gurung attends the VJ Day National Remembrance event, held at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, Britain
13/50 14 August
People including students hold placards on Whitehall outside Downing Street as they protest against the downgrading of A-level results. The government faced criticism after education officials downgraded more than a third of pupils’ final grades in a system devised after the coronavirus pandemic led to cancelled exams yes
14/50 13 August
Benita Stipp (centre) and Mimi Ferguson (left) react as students at Norwich School receive their A-Level results
15/50 12 August 2020
A train derailment near Stonehaven has left three people dead. Driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie, and a passenger were killed when the 6.38am Aberdeen to Glasgow Queen Street service crashed amid heavy rain and flooding
16/50 11 August 2020
A woman hydrates in the sun after open water swimming at the West Reservoir Centre in north London
17/50 10 August 2020
Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes part in an archery session as he visits Premier Education Summer Camp at Sacred Heart of Mary Girls’ in Upminster
18/50 9 August 2020
People cycle through Cambridge as the heatwave continues in Britain
19/50 8 August 2020
Healthcare workers take part in a protest in London over pay conditions in the NHS
20/50 7 August 2020
Emergency services make their way along the seafront on Bournemouth beach in Dorset on one of the hottest days of the year
21/50 6 August 2020
Alison Murphy poses for a picture by husband Peter as she walks through a field of sunflowers in Altrincham, Cheshire
22/50 5 August 2020
Pakistan’s Abid Ali being bowled by England’s Jofra Archer during day one of the First Test match at the Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester
23/50 4 August 2020
The ‘Timbuktu tumblers’ from Kenya perform their balancing act on the Southsea waterfront as Zippos Circus reopens in Portsmouth
24/50 3 August 2020
Pelicans interact with a visitor in St James’s Park in London
25/50 2 August 2020
Lewis Hamilton drives with a puncture towards the finish line to win the Formula One British Grand Prix at Silverstone
26/50 1 August 2020
Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates with the trophy and teammates after winning the FA Cup, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
27/50 31 July 2020
People enjoy the sunny weather at a Bournemouth Beach
28/50 30 July 2020
An artist puts the finishing touches to a wax figure of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in the entrance line at Madame Tussaud’s in London, as the attraction prepares to reopen to the public following the easing of lockdown restrictions in England
29/50 29 July 2020
A member of staff stands on Ai Weiwei’s ‘History of Bombs’ during a photocall for the Chinese artist’s new work on display at the Imperial War Museum in London
30/50 28 July 2020
Stuart Broad celebrates after taking the wicket of West Indies batsman Kraigg Brathwaite. It was a milestone wicket in his career, reaching his 500th Test Wicket for England. They went on to beat the West Indies in Manchester and therefore win the series 2-1
31/50 27 July 2020
Demonstrators protest outside the Tate Modern in London over proposed job losses in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown. The group believe that the emergency money provided by the government to culture-based organisations should be used to retain all jobs and that any other use of the funding is unfair. The gallery on London’s South Bank, as well as the Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives, reopened today after closing in March due to lockdown measures meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus
32/50 26 July 2020
Harry Maguire shakes hands with Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers after Manchester United beat the Foxes. The win meant they finished third in the Premier League and Leicester finished outside a Champions League place in fourth
33/50 25 July 2020
Women exercise using pool noodles during an aqua fit class at a gym in Sunbury-on-Thames after gyms and swimming pools were allowed to reopen
34/50 24 July 2020
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan tries out a new Streetspace protected cycle lane in London at the launch a new online cycle training scheme
35/50 23 July 2020
A customer has her hair cut outside at Blade Hairdressers in Soho in London
36/50 22 July 2020
Liverpool’s English midfielder Jordan Henderson lifts the Premier League trophy during the presentation following the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield in Liverpool. Liverpool on Wednesday lifted the Premier League trophy at the famous Kop stand at Anfield after their final home game of the season
37/50 21 July 2020
Vivienne Westwood demonstrates outside the Old Bailey in support of Julian Assange in London
38/50 20 July 2020
Comet Neowise in the skies over the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire
39/50 19 July 2020
Mods and rockers unite on Madeira Drive, Brighton, for a demonstration to call for the reopening of the road which Brighton & Hove City Council plans to keep closed permanently
40/50 18 July 2020
People enjoy the sunny weather at Painshill, an 18th century landscape garden in Cobham, Surrey
41/50 17 July 2020
Captain Sir Thomas Moore receives his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, during a ceremony at Windsor Castle
42/50 16 July 2020
Red Arrows do a flypast during the Graduation Ceremony of the Queen’s Squadron at RAF College Cranwell, Lincolnshire
43/50 15 July 2020
Jen Reid poses in front of a black resin and steel statue titled ‘A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020’, which is based on her by Marc Quinn, where it has been installed on the vacant Edward Colston plinth in Bristol city centre. The original statue was pulled down and thrown into Bristol Harbour during Black Lives Matter protests
44/50 14 July 2020
Fields of echium and borage in full flower near the town of Thaxted in Essex
45/50 13 July 2020
People ride a rollercoaster in a theme park next to Southend pier. Many businesses in tourism and hospitality have been able to reopen after some lockdown measures were eased
46/50 12 July 2020
West Indies’s John Campbell and Jason Holder celebrate winning the test as England’s Rory Burns and teammates look on dejected
47/50 11 July 2020
Chicldren play in the water during a cricket match between Abinger and Worplesdon & Nurpham in Abinger Hammer, Surrey
48/50 10 July 2020
People gather for the funeral of Dame Vera Lynn in Ditchling, England. During World War II she travelled to the frontlines, including Burma, entertaining British troops and boosting morale. She died on 18 June at her home in West Sussex
49/50 9 July 2020
Artist Anish Kapoor looks into his sculpture ‘Sky Mirror’ at Houghton Hall, King’s Lynn, ahead of the opening of his largest UK exhibition of outdoor sculptures
50/50 8 July 2020
Players take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on the first day of the first Test cricket match between England and the West Indies at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton
1/50 26 August
Giant waves at Seaham in County Durham, as the bad weather continues
2/50 25 August
An assistant at the Wallace Monument cleans the case which houses the William Wallace sword in the Hall of Arms room at the monument near Stirling as they prepare to re-open
3/50 24 August
Restored World War Two landing craft LCT 7074 is transported from from the Naval Base in Portsmouth to its final resting place at the D-Day Story at Southsea
4/50 23 August
Jenny Nguyen and Tony Cao, from Vietnam, pose for wedding photos on Tower Bridge in London, as it remains closed to vehicles after it was stuck open on Saturday due to a “mechanical fault”. The landmark’s Twitter account confirmed only pedestrians and cyclists could use it on Sunday morning
5/50 22 August
England’s Zak Crawley hit 267, joining the exclusive Double Hundred club, on day two of the Third Test match against Pakistan at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton
6/50 21 August
Harri Teale gathers lavender during the annual harvest on the Wolds Way Lavender farm near Malton in North Yorkshire
7/50 20 August
Parents and a student react after checking GCSE results at Ark Academy in London
8/50 19 August
Tate Modern workers hold a strike outside the gallery in London, to protest the institution’s announcement that it would cut more than 300 jobs from its commercial arm, Tate Enterprises
9/50 18 August
Two rescued brown bear cubs, Mish (left) and Lucy, cool off in a pool after arriving at their new home with the wildlife conservation charity Wildwood Trust in Herne Bay, Kent. The orphaned pair, who have been living in a temporary home in Belgium since they were found abandoned and alone in a snowdrift in the Albanian mountains, will be acclimatised to their new life in the country before moving to a permanent home
10/50 17 August
A level students celebrate outside the Department for Education in London after it was confirmed that candidates in England will be given grades estimated by their teachers, rather than by an algorithm. The government U-turn comes just days after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson vowed there would be “no U-turn, no change.
11/50 16 August
Wasp players take a knee as Northampton Saints stand prior to kick-off in their Premiership match at Franklin’s Gardens
12/50 15 August
Piper Colour Sergeant Lil Bahadur Gurung attends the VJ Day National Remembrance event, held at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, Britain
13/50 14 August
People including students hold placards on Whitehall outside Downing Street as they protest against the downgrading of A-level results. The government faced criticism after education officials downgraded more than a third of pupils’ final grades in a system devised after the coronavirus pandemic led to cancelled exams yes
14/50 13 August
Benita Stipp (centre) and Mimi Ferguson (left) react as students at Norwich School receive their A-Level results
15/50 12 August 2020
A train derailment near Stonehaven has left three people dead. Driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie, and a passenger were killed when the 6.38am Aberdeen to Glasgow Queen Street service crashed amid heavy rain and flooding
16/50 11 August 2020
A woman hydrates in the sun after open water swimming at the West Reservoir Centre in north London
17/50 10 August 2020
Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes part in an archery session as he visits Premier Education Summer Camp at Sacred Heart of Mary Girls’ in Upminster
18/50 9 August 2020
People cycle through Cambridge as the heatwave continues in Britain
19/50 8 August 2020
Healthcare workers take part in a protest in London over pay conditions in the NHS
20/50 7 August 2020
Emergency services make their way along the seafront on Bournemouth beach in Dorset on one of the hottest days of the year
21/50 6 August 2020
Alison Murphy poses for a picture by husband Peter as she walks through a field of sunflowers in Altrincham, Cheshire
22/50 5 August 2020
Pakistan’s Abid Ali being bowled by England’s Jofra Archer during day one of the First Test match at the Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester
23/50 4 August 2020
The ‘Timbuktu tumblers’ from Kenya perform their balancing act on the Southsea waterfront as Zippos Circus reopens in Portsmouth
24/50 3 August 2020
Pelicans interact with a visitor in St James’s Park in London
25/50 2 August 2020
Lewis Hamilton drives with a puncture towards the finish line to win the Formula One British Grand Prix at Silverstone
26/50 1 August 2020
Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates with the trophy and teammates after winning the FA Cup, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
27/50 31 July 2020
People enjoy the sunny weather at a Bournemouth Beach
28/50 30 July 2020
An artist puts the finishing touches to a wax figure of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in the entrance line at Madame Tussaud’s in London, as the attraction prepares to reopen to the public following the easing of lockdown restrictions in England
29/50 29 July 2020
A member of staff stands on Ai Weiwei’s ‘History of Bombs’ during a photocall for the Chinese artist’s new work on display at the Imperial War Museum in London
30/50 28 July 2020
Stuart Broad celebrates after taking the wicket of West Indies batsman Kraigg Brathwaite. It was a milestone wicket in his career, reaching his 500th Test Wicket for England. They went on to beat the West Indies in Manchester and therefore win the series 2-1
31/50 27 July 2020
Demonstrators protest outside the Tate Modern in London over proposed job losses in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown. The group believe that the emergency money provided by the government to culture-based organisations should be used to retain all jobs and that any other use of the funding is unfair. The gallery on London’s South Bank, as well as the Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives, reopened today after closing in March due to lockdown measures meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus
32/50 26 July 2020
Harry Maguire shakes hands with Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers after Manchester United beat the Foxes. The win meant they finished third in the Premier League and Leicester finished outside a Champions League place in fourth
33/50 25 July 2020
Women exercise using pool noodles during an aqua fit class at a gym in Sunbury-on-Thames after gyms and swimming pools were allowed to reopen
34/50 24 July 2020
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan tries out a new Streetspace protected cycle lane in London at the launch a new online cycle training scheme
35/50 23 July 2020
A customer has her hair cut outside at Blade Hairdressers in Soho in London
36/50 22 July 2020
Liverpool’s English midfielder Jordan Henderson lifts the Premier League trophy during the presentation following the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield in Liverpool. Liverpool on Wednesday lifted the Premier League trophy at the famous Kop stand at Anfield after their final home game of the season
37/50 21 July 2020
Vivienne Westwood demonstrates outside the Old Bailey in support of Julian Assange in London
38/50 20 July 2020
Comet Neowise in the skies over the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire
39/50 19 July 2020
Mods and rockers unite on Madeira Drive, Brighton, for a demonstration to call for the reopening of the road which Brighton & Hove City Council plans to keep closed permanently
40/50 18 July 2020
People enjoy the sunny weather at Painshill, an 18th century landscape garden in Cobham, Surrey
41/50 17 July 2020
Captain Sir Thomas Moore receives his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, during a ceremony at Windsor Castle
42/50 16 July 2020
Red Arrows do a flypast during the Graduation Ceremony of the Queen’s Squadron at RAF College Cranwell, Lincolnshire
43/50 15 July 2020
Jen Reid poses in front of a black resin and steel statue titled ‘A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020’, which is based on her by Marc Quinn, where it has been installed on the vacant Edward Colston plinth in Bristol city centre. The original statue was pulled down and thrown into Bristol Harbour during Black Lives Matter protests
44/50 14 July 2020
Fields of echium and borage in full flower near the town of Thaxted in Essex
45/50 13 July 2020
People ride a rollercoaster in a theme park next to Southend pier. Many businesses in tourism and hospitality have been able to reopen after some lockdown measures were eased
46/50 12 July 2020
West Indies’s John Campbell and Jason Holder celebrate winning the test as England’s Rory Burns and teammates look on dejected
47/50 11 July 2020
Chicldren play in the water during a cricket match between Abinger and Worplesdon & Nurpham in Abinger Hammer, Surrey
48/50 10 July 2020
People gather for the funeral of Dame Vera Lynn in Ditchling, England. During World War II she travelled to the frontlines, including Burma, entertaining British troops and boosting morale. She died on 18 June at her home in West Sussex
49/50 9 July 2020
Artist Anish Kapoor looks into his sculpture ‘Sky Mirror’ at Houghton Hall, King’s Lynn, ahead of the opening of his largest UK exhibition of outdoor sculptures
50/50 8 July 2020
Players take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on the first day of the first Test cricket match between England and the West Indies at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton
Mr Slater is the second senior education official, after Ofqual chief regulator Sally Collier, to lose his job in the wake of the exam grading fiasco which saw thousands of A-level students awarded results way below teachers predictions. His departure came just days before the return of pupils to schools in England and Wales next week, a crucial part of the nations withdrawal from coronavirus lockdown which he had responsibility for overseeing.
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He is the fifth head of a government department to be ousted since Boris Johnson returned to office in Decembers election with his top adviser Dominic Cummings intent on a shake-up of Whitehall to concentrate more power in the prime ministers hands. Announcing his departure on Wednesday, the DFE made clear the decision to force him out had been made personally by Mr Johnson, who demanded fresh official leadership in the department.
Former civil service chief Lord (Bob) Kerslake told Radio 4s The World Tonight that his dismissal was a complete disgrace, adding: I know Jonathan Slater and hes a very capable, experienced, conscientious senior civil servant.
Im afraid whats happened is theyve decided that someone has got to take the rap here, and its going to be the civil servant
I think the issue is the quality of the ministers. We cant get into a situation where the buck is passed every time something goes wrong. Its corrosive for the relationship between ministers and the civil service Officials advise, ministers decide.
Ms Hayes said Whitehall was seeing a very disturbing pattern of civil servants time and again taking the fall for the incompetence and failures of ministers.
The shadow Cabinet Office minister said a senior figure from outside the DFE should be brought it to look into the circumstances around the departures of Mr Slater and Ms Collier.
We certainly need more transparency and an investigation would be the right way to go about establishing whether there were any issues in both of these departments, she told Today.
The way that the government would typically undertake an investigation within the civil service would be to appoint somebody from either from outside or from another civil service department to look at what what what had gone on. A summary sacking of the permanent secretary at the instruction of the prime minister is a very unusual way for the government to be meddling in the civil service.
Jonathan Slater (left) gives evidence to a House of Commons committee
Ms Hayes said: If there are problems within civil service departments, there is due process for that. What’s concerning about this is a constant meddling and summary sackings taking place to distract from the responsibility that Boris Johnson and his government bear for their lack of political leadership on these issues.
The chaos that we’ve seen around exam results has been a consequence of the political decisions that the government has made and it is really ministers who should be accountable for those decisions.
Gavin Williamson had two jobs – to get our schools back open for our children and to ensure that they received their grades fairly – and parents across the country have seen the chaos, the incompetence and indeed the distress which the government’s handling of these issues has caused.
But this is a wider issue than simply about Gavin Williamson. We have a prime minister who promised a world-class education for every child, who said that the buck stops with him.
The reality is that he seems prepared to blame absolutely everybody but himself. Yesterday he was blaming an algorithm for the consequences of his own political decision-making.
So this is a much wider question than any one individual and the buck stops with the prime minister.