A party held for “two dozen” staff at the Department for Education during lockdown last December is to be investigated by the cabinet secretary.
Boris Johnson announced at prime minister’s questions today that Simon Case would investigate whether lockdown rules were broken at a separate event in Downing Street on December 18.
And this afternoon Susan Acland-Hood, permanent secretary of the DfE, told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee the earlier gathering at her department on December 10 would be considered during the investigation.
She also told MPs she had attended the party, which was held in the DfE’s canteen.
Williamson said a “few words” at the event, attended by around “two dozen” staff “principally” from ministers’ private offices.
“I’ve spoken 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,” she said.
She confirmed that if any staff were found to have broken rules, they would face disciplinary action. This would include Acland-Hood herself, she said.
Details of the DfE party were first revealed today by the Daily Mirror.
Acland-Hood repeated a statement issued by the DfE, which confirmed that a “gathering of colleagues who were already present at the office – and who had worked together throughout the pandemic” had taken place.
The gathering “was used to thank those staff for their efforts during the pandemic”, the DfE said.
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.”
Acland-Hood also revealed today that the event had been instigated by former education secretary Gavin Williamson, who had “wanted to thank staff together for the work that they had done”.