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Sue Gray report exposes 'repugnant' treatment of Downing Street cleaners and security staff

The report found "multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff".

Image: Government Cabinet Office

The Sue Gray report has not only exposed the lockdown partying in Downing Street on Boris Johnson’s watch, but also the poor treatment of the lowest-paid staff in the building. 

The report described late night partying that left a wall of Number 10 stained with red wine as well as “multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff”.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the prime minister had “turned Downing Street into a vomit-stained Bullingdon Club“.

“The treatment and mockery doled out to cleaning and security staff that has now been exposed is beyond shameful,” she continued.

Responding to the revelations, Boris Johnson said it was “utterly intolerable for people to be rude to hard-working staff” and said he had personally apologised to them following the report’s publication.

He added that he does not know specifically which of his own civil servants were responsible for “the alleged rudeness”.

“To the custodians and staff, it now turns out, who were wrongly and badly treated, I think it’s repugnant that that happened,” he said.

Tuesday’s BBC Panorama with Laura Kuenssberg also found that a Downing Street security guard was mocked for attempting to break up one of the gatherings.

An insider said: “I remember when a custodian tried to stop it all and he was just shaking his head in this party, being like, ‘This shouldn’t be happening.’

“People made fun of him because he was so worked up that this party was happening and it shouldn’t be happening.”

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Union United Voices of the World, which represents low-paid migrant workers including security guards and cleaners, said: “It is disrespectful to have rowdy parties during the pandemic and expect cleaners to mop up after you, but it is also disrespectful to pay cleaners, porters, security guards poverty wages.”

“We represent cleaners at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) who had to walk off the job during the pandemic because they were not given adequate PPE and were denied full sick pay, which they eventually won. One of our members who worked as a cleaner at the MoJ sadly died. 

That’s how far the levels of disrespect and mistreatment went towards low paid workers,” Petros Elia, UVW general secretary, told The Big Issue. 

Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, said that the parties “exemplify the Tories’ total disrespect towards the very key workers who got our country through the worst phase of the pandemic.”

In her long-awaited report, Gray found “some staff had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly. I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable.”

The report goes on to describe the aftermath of the party held on December 18 2020, attended by 25 to 40 people, where Secret Santa gifts were exchanged and alcohol consumed.

“A cleaner who attended the room the next morning noted that there had been red wine spilled on one wall and on a number of boxes of photocopier paper,” the report stated.

At a gathering in the Cabinet Office on June 18 2020, when only “individual prayer” was allowed in places of worship and non-essential retail had reopened three days prior: “There was excessive alcohol consumption by some individuals. One individual was sick. There was a minor altercation between two other individuals.”

The Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union said it was “saddened to see that there were multiple examples of a lack of respect towards and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff,” at the gatherings on government premises.

“Cleaners and security staff were on the front line throughout the pandemic and continue to provide a vital role within society in keeping the public safe and well. They deserve our sincere gratitude and no less,” a spokesperson told The Big Issue.

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