Hamilton Report: “No evidence of bullying” in Welsh Government



(Title Image: Wales Online)

The second major tranche of the Carl Sargeant inquiries was published yesterday, unredacted and in full (pdf).

It was led by former Irish Director of Public Prosecutions, James Hamilton, and focused on whether the First Minister breached the Ministerial Code in dealing with allegations of bullying and misconduct within the Welsh Government and his response to questions from AMs about it.

The report says 23 people were interviewed. Here’s a summary of the main findings:

The Special Adviser

  • Lesley Griffiths (the current Energy & Rural Affairs Secretary), Leighton Andrews and Carl Sargeant all raised concerns about “bullying behaviour” and misconduct by a senior special adviser to the First Minister in the period around September-November 2014.
  • The complaints from Ministers and others are similar: not being granted access to the First Minister, monitoring of travel expenses, monitoring of diaries, favouritism, “undermining” through derogatory remarks.
  • A number of witnesses said meeting the First Minister was “more difficult that they would like” and they believed this was down to the special adviser.
  • However, no specific examples of being denied access were provided and Hamilton wasn’t satisfied the special adviser was unduly controlling in managing the First Minister’s diary. He believed this could be because those who made complaints were, in the main, key supporters of Carwyn’s 2009 leadership bid and were used to having free access.
  • The “overwhelming majority” of witnesses said there were no examples of favouritism; controlling expenses and travel isn’t, in itself, inappropriate. No specific examples of derogatory remarks were given either.
  • A text exchange between the First Minister and a special adviser when that adviser left – who since claimed there was a “toxic atmosphere” in the Welsh Government – didn’t suggest ill-feeling or bullying being a reason behind their departure.
  • Hamilton didn’t believe the special adviser’s behaviour was bullying and a large number of witnesses were “surprised” by the claims. There’s also no suggestion the First Minister was personally involved in any bullying either.

Carl Sargeant’s complaints & the Darren Millar questions

  • Carl Sargeant informally discussed the behaviour of the special adviser with the First Minister in a pub in October 2014. Leighton Andrews made a note of this in a diary when he spoke with Carl afterwards. The First Minister said Carl didn’t raise any specific allegations of bullying with him at this meeting.
  • Carl told a “close personal friend” he was unhappy and felt undermined. He asked Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) to table questions on the matter on his behalf in November 2014. Carl was said to have been “disappointed” with Carwyn Jones’ answers.
  • The First Minister said issues raised with him in November 2014 were categorised as disagreements between Ministers and staff, which were normal matters of government and therefore not matters of “bullying” – so his answers given in November 2014 and 2017 didn’t contradict each other.

 

Lesley Griffiths & Leighton Andrews

  • Lesley Griffiths felt “bullied at times” but decided not to make a formal complaint to the First Minister.
  • Leighton Andrews discussed possible misconduct by a special adviser 8 days after the questions were tabled in November 2014; he believed the advisor had breached the code of conduct by alledging Carl Sargeant – and another adviser assigned to work with him on the Domestic Violence Bill – ignored legal advice and made promises to women’s organisations they couldn’t keep (it’s implied it’s in relation to the title of the Bill).
  • The First Minister supposedly promised to ask the civil service to launch an investigation into these allegations but it appears nothing happened.
  • Leighton asked whether the First Minister wanted a drafted, but toned-down, letter setting out his complaints, but the First Minister said he didn’t want anything in writing.

 

James Hamilton’s Conclusion

  • “….the answers given by the First Minister on 11 November 2014 and 14 November 2017 to the questions tabled during Welsh Assembly questions were accurate and truthful and not misleading, and did not breach the Ministerial Code.”

 

Plausible Deniability

As Carwyn creates yet more problems for himself via his actions yesterday, I suppose this counts as a bit of qualified good news.

He “officially” didn’t lie to the Assembly. If he had, he would’ve had to resign.

That isn’t the end of it though. Reading between the lines, this isn’t a glowing report.

Carl Sargeant was clearly unhappy as were some of Carwyn’s most loyal ministers and staff. The problem is that although clear hints were dropped, there was no evidence trail and no paper trail of complaints, providing the First Minister and others with plausible deniability and wilful ignorance.

This tells us some very damning things about Carwyn’s management style and how the Welsh Government works. If the First Minister can’t ensure his own team are happy or doesn’t have a full grasp of what’s happening around him, what sort of leader is he?

If staff and Ministers felt the need to tone down complaints or use hints instead of coming out and saying things straight, maybe Carwyn doesn’t like bad news, that bad news is “filtered” by special advisers, or there isn’t an atmosphere in Welsh Government that allows speaking truth to power.

Carwyn found himself in the same position teachers often find themselves in when pupils are being bullied and, similar to the response of many schools to bullying, there’s flat denial of a problem, “We don’t have any bullying here”.

Anyone who’s ever been bullied or on the receiving end of other forms of belittling treatment will tell you that proving it is difficult. It’s often done on the sly without anyone else around. If that someone else has people to back them up, or there are very few witnesses, it’s your word against theirs.

The most painful thing to read in the entire report – which hasn’t been picked up anywhere else AFAIK – was a text from Carl Sargeant to Leighton Andrews after that pub meeting with the First Minister where Carl raised his concerns:

‘he [the First Minister] don’t get it’.

Maybe he didn’t want to.

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