It is the second investigation launched in a day into parties last year and any officials found to have broken the rules will face disciplinary action
Image: Reach PLC)
Gavin Williamson’s lockdown-busting party at the Department for Education in the run-up to last Christmas will be investigated by the Cabinet Secretary.
The DfE’s top civil servant revealed she had referred the drinks do to Simon Case who is looking into whether the No 10 Christmas bash breached Covid rules.
The Mirror reported that up to two dozen of Mr Williamson’s top team gathered for “drinks and canapes” in the department’s cafe on December 10 last year.
Susan Acland-Hood admitted to MPs that she had been present at the social gathering along with key members of the ex-Education Secretary’s top team.
The flustered mandarin confirmed that officials found to have broken the rules will face disciplinary action – just as Boris Johnson has threatened for No 10 staff.
At a Public Accounts Committee meeting, she was asked by Tory MP Richard Holden how she was investigating whether the regulations had been breached.
She replied: “I have referred it to the Cabinet Secretary and the gathering that was held will be part of his consideration as part of the investigation that was announced at PMQs.”
Ms Acland-Hood also admitted that Mr Williamson had organised the event in advance as he had wanted to thank staff for working during the pandemic.
Millions of people were living under strict Covid restrictions at the time of the event – with London under tier 2 rules which banned any social mixing between households.
Official DfE figures show that state school attendance on 10 December was just 85%, meaning that 1.2 million children in England were out of school.
One source told the Mirror: “There were lots of people gathered in the cafe area, mingling and drinking wine. It was just so reckless”.
Another source added: “He hosted a drinks do when people were considering whether they could spend Christmas with their families.”
The DfE has not denied that Covid rules had been broken and admitted “it would have been better” not to have held the event while the rest of the country was banned from doing so.
Ms Acland-Hood told MPs: “On 10 December 2020 a gathering of colleagues who were already present at the office – and who had worked together throughout the pandemic, as they couldn’t work from home – took place in the DfE office building in London at a time when the city was subject to tier 2 restrictions.
“The gathering was used to thank those staff for their efforts during the pandemic.
“Drinks and snacks were brought by those attending and no outside guests or supporting staff were invited or present.
“While this was work-related, looking back we accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.