Increasing the direct provision allowance

 

Sir, - I am writing to address a matter of some gravity pertaining to an article published on November 19th, 2019, headlined “Direct provision: Senior official disagreed with payment rise proposal” in the context of my own reputation as a career civil servant.

In the relatively rare circumstances of civil servants being “named” in the course in an article like this, departments are usually informed in advance and a response requested, given that civil servants enjoy no personal “right to reply”. However, in this instance such a process did not take place, the fuller context was not set out, with serious implications as to my own reputation.

As I have retired recently this is the first opportunity to defend my name and reputation from the incorrect assumptions set out in the article.

The article names me as “strongly” disagreeing with a measure I actually actively promoted for approval within the department. Indeed there is a weight of FOI evidence of the reform initiatives and active implementation, I was honoured to work on during my tenure. This article as published did not reflect the actual state of affairs, even though the increase in the direct provision Allowance had been granted.

There are significant gaps in the article in question. For example, did you ever wonder how did this fifth consecutive increase happened, after a hiatus of 15 years, in the face of the “strong” disagreement of the official in charge? Were you curious the FOI did not reveal any correspondence from me to anyone else, indicating my “disagreement” with the proposal? The points raised in the email needed to be “considered” for rebuttal in the memo, for the proposal to succeed. Why did I advise the new memo writer to consult the NGO submissions which might carry the argument?

As part of our duties, senior public servants are required to come up with “pros and cons” to aid policy change and consideration. Is it fair or accurate to state that views presented in such an exploration of any topic or policy, are the personal views of the author, rather than the outcome of their professional advice? The views you factually attributed to me have not and have never been my personal views.

My personal credibility has been undermined in public by your article. The headline attached compounded the damage.

I was subjected to horrendous online abuse. I had my personal social media invaded, where there was no previous reference to my work in the Department of Justice. I was openly accused of “racism” online - quoting your article. I was tagged to two Government Ministers’ Twitter accounts demanding my resignation. I had no right to reply to your article or these hostile tweets.

It is a truly dangerous thing to assume, in this modern climate of “cancel culture” and online bullying and abuse, to publish without notice or opportunity to correct the record, in advance or afterwards. Context still matters. Your statement about my personal views on this issue is totally untrue. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN MERRIMAN,

Head of Asylum (and later

Immigration) Policy

(2015 - 2020), Retired