LONDON – After a mishandled investigation into claims of bullying against a staff member, former associates of newly-elected chair of the Commons committee, Liam Byrne, have been given substantial compensation from public funds.
Four of Byrne’s ex-employees were recently compensated after their anonymity was compromised by the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) during an investigation into allegations of bullying. A complaint against Byrne was found to be valid.
Labour Member of Parliament Byrne narrowly secured victory in the race to lead the business and trade committee this week. Five individuals who had previously been employed by him, including three who received compensation, have expressed disappointment in the outcome to POLITICO.
During its investigation into allegations of bullying against a staff member, the ICGS disclosed the identities of witnesses to Byrne, despite promising to keep them confidential. As a result, he reached out to several of them through messages and calls.
The former aides filed a lawsuit against the ICGS and were each compensated with four-figure settlements from the Commons this month. It is estimated that the overall amount paid was in the five-figure range.
Last year, the ICGS determined that Byrne had alienated a former assistant due to a small disagreement in the office. Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone noted that this was a harmful action that involved a major abuse of authority. Byrne expressed deep remorse at the time. As a consequence, he received a two-day suspension from parliament.
David Barker, the previous assistant who Byrne was discovered to have mistreated and one of the individuals who received reimbursement from the House of Commons, expressed his disappointment when parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) revealed statements and private messages that were promised to remain anonymous. Barker spent much time concerned about any potential consequences for the witnesses who bravely came forward to provide evidence, as well as their mental well-being.
“I am pleased that they have reached a settlement,” he stated. “Unfortunately, numerous other victims have expressed to me that they were discouraged from filing an ICGS complaint after witnessing how witnesses were treated in my case.”
‘Kick in the teeth’
Five individuals employed by Byrne retaliated against his appointment by Members of Parliament to the highly coveted and influential position of committee chair. They were given the privilege of remaining anonymous in order to express their opinions openly.
One individual who was employed under the bully expressed their disappointment in seeing them receive a promotion and a salary increase of 17k. It is especially disheartening since it was their colleagues, the elected members of parliament, who selected them for the position.
A former aide of Byrne expressed concern about his new influential position, stating that it portrays a negative image of politics and politicians.
A third individual employed by Byrne stated that it was “completely expected” for MPs to nominate and elect him despite speaking out against the toxic workplace culture in Westminster.
Jenny Symons, who serves as the head of the GMB union branch for parliamentary staff, expressed disappointment that his peers have chosen him for a select committee chairmanship.
In May, a parliamentary inquiry found that Byrne had violated a complaint by using a taxpayer-funded assistant for his unsuccessful campaign to become the mayor of West Midlands.
On Wednesday, Byrne won by a slim margin with 191 MPs choosing him as their first choice, beating out Angela Eagle who came in second place.
Several prominent members of the Labour party, including Shadow Safeguarding Minister Jess Phillips, nominated the MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill for the position. Phillips, who has been a strong advocate for victims of misconduct, did not provide a comment in response to a request.
In addition, he received backing from Stephen Timms and Stella Creasy of the Labour party, as well as prominent members of the Conservative party such as Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, and Damian Green.
While serving as a minister in the previous Labour administration, a leaked 11-page document revealed the specific demands made by Byrne to civil servants, including specific instructions for serving coffee and soup and guidelines for formatting briefing notes.
According to a statement given to POLITICO, Byrne expressed genuine regret for the harm caused by his actions towards the individual involved. This acknowledgement was recognized by the IEP and he has offered an apology to the complainant for any distress caused.
I completely concur that stronger measures should be implemented for Members of Parliament and employees, such as volunteer contracts, in order to provide team members with assurance in their role. I have completed the required training and have taken precautions to prevent a similar situation from occurring again under my supervision.
The ICGS greatly neglected their responsibility to safeguard the identities of individuals involved in their inquiry, and I am pleased that they have received compensation for the distress caused.
“The spokesperson for the House of Commons stated that the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) follows a confidentiality policy to protect all parties involved. Therefore, we are unable to disclose any details or opinions regarding specific cases.”