Senior Whitehall officials accused of wasting time on ‘woke projects’ in roles as diversity champions

Six of Whitehall’s most senior officials have been accused of wasting time on “woke projects” after their roles as Civil Service diversity and inclusion champions were exposed.

Permanent secretaries at half a dozen government departments are working to promote issues such as race, gender, age and LGBT rights, on top of their official duties advising ministers and running their departments.

Each of them is paid a basic salary of between £170,000 and £200,000, and are not paid any extra to be so-called champions. 

The Cabinet Office refuses to say how much of their work time is spent on championing their various causes, but a spokesman insisted the roles formed “only an extremely small part” of their jobs.

The permanent secretaries include: 

  • Antonia Romeo, the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Justice, who is also gender champion; 
  • Matthew Rycroft, at the Home Office, who is race, faith, and belief champion; 
  • Alex Chisholm, head of the Cabinet Office, who is champion for age, carers and culture; 
  • Sarah Healey, from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), who is disability champion; 
  • Jim Harra, the first permanent secretary and chief executive of HMRC, who is LGBT+ champion; 
  • Bernadette Kelly, at the Department for Transport, who is social mobility champion.

‘Taxpayers are fed up with funding woke Whitehall’ 

The extra roles have been criticised by campaigners. James Roberts, the political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers are fed up with funding woke Whitehall.

“Politicians decide policy, so there is little need for top mandarins to be sermonising on social justice.

“Well-paid officials should focus on their day jobs and improving services for struggling taxpayers.”

Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP, said: “I have no doubt that the ‘full diversity spectrum’ of taxpayers will be rightly concerned that time and money are being wasted on these woke projects that do little more than tick boxes and allow some civil servants to ride their political (non-gender specific) hobby horses to justify their positions.”

The most active champions appear to be Ms Romeo and Mr Rycroft, who frequently post messages on social media promoting their causes.

Ms Romeo, who was appointed permanent secretary to the MoJ last year, has served as the Civil Service’s gender champion since 2019.

Earlier this year, Ms Romeo wrote a blog to officials entitled ‘Breaking the menopause taboo in the Civil Service’, where she urged colleagues “to set the standard in our approach to inclusion” and touted the “Cross-Government Menopause Network”.

‘Male allyship is crucial’

The permanent secretary also spoke on a panel in March for the Cross Government Gender Network, and tweeted after the event: “Gender equality is a shared mission: male allyship is crucial.”

As gender champion, Ms Romeo set up the Gender Equality Leadership Group, which holds regular meetings to discuss women’s equality and she has helped judge awards for civil servants.

Ms Romeo was also recently announced as a sponsor of Lord Maude’s review into Whitehall efficiency, an initiative praised by Jacob Rees-Mogg. 

During her time at the MoJ, civil servants have complained of being bombarded with woke HR notes. 

In May, justice officials were sent a message from a jury officer at York Crown Court about Lesbian Visibility Week, lamenting the lack of “meaningful lesbian visibility” among senior officials, “successful celebrities” or in “media portrayal[s] where we actually have a happy ending”.

In the same month, MoJ civil servants received a memo from Nick Goodwin, the race champion on the department’s executive committee, who was writing on the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, and said that the data was “an important moment to reflect”.

Mr Goodwin went on to describe the MoJ’s “Race Action Plan”, created after the BLM riots in 2020, which aims to create “a safe space for ethnic minority colleagues” and “increase awareness of the wellbeing issues faced by ethnic minority staff in the MoJ”.

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