Home Secretary Priti Patel must answer scrutiny request - Tom Richmond

PRITI Patel was always going to be a high-risk appointment as Home Secretary – and she’s already proved to be a political liability.

Home Secretary Priti Patel. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Mired in claims she belittled staff as Sir Philip Rutnam, the Home Office’s senior civil servant, resigned on February 29 in order to force an employment tribunal amid claims of constructive dismissal and bullying, she’s still not fronted a Downing Street press conference on the Covid-19 crisis.

This despite the role of the police, and emergency services, being tasked with enforcing the lockdown – some have been the subject of spitting and other vile acts – and supporting the NHS.

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Why not? It can only be one of two reasons – either Downing Street is fearful that she will sound arrogant or she is afraid of questions about her past conduct at other Whitehall departments.

Priti Patel has been accused of avoiding scrutiny from the Home Affairs Select Committee. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

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Either way, she appears to be a Home Secretary in name only – untouchable because of the unfolding national emergency – after refusing to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee headed by Yvette Cooper.

The West Yorkshire MP has written six letters to Ms Patel in three months to set a date for the Home Secretary to give evidence about her department’s coronavirus response.

After not replying to several of the letters, Ms Patel responded on Tuesday, bemoaning that she was “disappointed at the increasingly adversarial tone of our exchanges.” She added that she was “very sorry” the committee declined her offer of private briefings at the Home Office.

Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee.

In reply, Ms Cooper said the committee was preparing to meet remotely for the hearing on April 15 – next Wednesday. “We believe that there is no reason for any delay beyond this date,” she added.

“Delaying until the end of the month would clearly be inappropriate given the urgency of the public information and answers that are needed.

“We continue to welcome the transparent approach by other Ministers including the Justice Secretary, Work and Pensions Secretary, Transport Secretary and Health Secretary who have either given evidence to their select committees already or who have agreed an early date to do so.”

The Home Office’s response – namely Ms Patel will appear in front of the committee “before the end of April” and is “working tirelessly to keep the British public safe” – is risible. Public scrutiny matters, even at times of crisis, I conclude that Ms Patel is a control-freak; wants to hide policy failings; is not a team player and is not prepared to work constructively with others. And, if I’m wrong, I look forward to the Home Secretary setting the record straight.

TYPICALLY, lobby journalists interpreted Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s statement in 10 Downing Street on Wednesday teatime as a potential leadership pitch.

They’re clearly living in their own bubble. Unveiling a £750m support package to prop up the work of hospices and key charities, the Richmond MP was responding to concerns expressed by The Yorkshire Post in Tuesday’s editorial.

Rarely has a leader column been so important – and so urgent – and the Chancellor, and his team, deserve credit for their response to the SOS appeal issued by the Sue Ryder charity that treats the terminally ill.

The key now is making sure the promised money reaches those in the greatest need. On this, the Treasury – and rest of Whitehall – does still have much to prove.

As for Mr Sunak, he is now one of the Government’s most trusted – and competent – communicators. However his greatest test is still to come – namely paying the Covid-19 bill while packing up the pieces of a shattered economy and nurturing it back to health as expeditiously as possible.

TALKING of this newspaper’s coverage, a deliberate decision has been taken to make the daily leaders constructive – and not too critical of Ministers who are in an invidious position.

Yet this does not mask our deep misgivings on Thursday about the supply of PPE protection equipment to NHS heroes and also the social care sector.

On this, there’s still much to do – despite 10 Downing Street officials assuring me that 7.8 million pieces of PPE have been distributed to over 26,000 care homes. A fair point – but there are clearly issues of logistics when staff at care homes in Yorkshire are having to provide their own face masks.

And growing tensions between Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock and Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary in charge of local government, must not be allowed to exacerbate this matter of life – and death.

bodies like West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Transport for the North are in limbo.

Let’s just hope these vast quangocracies are putting the time to good use and their extensive staff are finessing plans to enhance train and bus services when the country is, once again, open for business.

Given the number of people on their payrolls – TfN spent this week congratulating various Labour MPs on their appointment to Sir Keir Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet – let them be on notice that they will get short shrift if they use Covid-19 as an excuse for future failure.

FINALLY, a word to all those readers still getting in touch with tales of woe about the region’s railways. Just be grateful that Chris Grayling is not Health and Social Care Secretary at this time. The terrifying prospect is that he’s still due to become chairman of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. Happy Easter (if you can).

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

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James Mitchinson