Government comms chief suspended in bullying row

Kirsty Buchanan, director of comms at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and a former Number 10 adviser, has been suspended amid allegations of bullying, it has emerged.

Kirsty Buchanan is understood to have been suspended from her job over bullying allegations
Kirsty Buchanan is understood to have been suspended from her job over bullying allegations

It is not known how many people have accused Buchanan of bullying, and the specific nature of the allegations has yet to come to light.

A former political editor at the Sunday Express, she was suspended after an investigation was conducted during the general election, according to influential political website Guido.

The director of comms, who describes herself as a "former hack - so basically the full 'poacher turned gamekeeper' experience", has yet to comment publicly.

Senior role

Buchanan, a senior civil servant on an annual salary of at least £90,000, has only been in the post since last April.

She is responsible for campaigns, public and media relations, digital channels, stakeholder engagement and corporate communications, and leads a team of about 50.

During her application for the job, Buchanan was judged to have attributes such as "an inclusive and collaborative leadership style" and "highly developed interpersonal and influencing skills".

She was appointed last March, by a selection panel including Alex Aiken, director general of the Government Communication Service (GCS).

Commenting on her appointment at the time, Aiken said: "Senior leaders have a critical role in inspiring great performance, providing visible leadership and direction, and nurturing talent and creativity."

Buchanan reports to Tom Walker, interim director-general for decentralisation and growth, and is a senior member of the Whitehall directors of communication group.

However, she is relatively inexperienced when it comes to the culture of the Civil Service, having spent most of her career as a newspaper journalist.

Wider issue

Allegations of bullying are not uncommon at MHCLG.

Almost one in 10 (eight per cent) of the department's staff have suffered from bullying or harassment at work in the past year, according to the latest Civil Service people survey, released last year and relating to 2018.

Only a third (33 per cent) of victims reported the abuse they had suffered. Of those, less than one in five (18 per cent) felt the issue had been resolved, according to the same study.

Department response

In a statement to PRWeek today, responding to a request for comment on Buchanan's suspension, an MHCLG spokesperson said: "We do not comment on individual members of staff."

Honoured

The bullying allegation comes just months after Buchanan, a former special adviser to Theresa May, was awarded an OBE for political and public service in the former prime minister's resignation honours.

From local reporter to Downing Street

Educated at Watford Grammar School for Girls, Buchanan went to Kingston University.

After graduating in 1991 she embarked on a career in regional and national newspapers, reaching the position of political editor at the Sunday Express in 2009.

In 2014 she left journalism and took a job as deputy comms director at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Little more than a year later, Buchanan left to become head of comms at West Sussex County Council.

During her time there she became involved in a row with the Argus newspaper over the media handling of the memorial service for victims of the Shoreham Airshow disaster, which local newspapers were banned from attending. Buchanan failed in an attempt to get IPSO to censure the newspaper over its coverage of the controversy.

She went on the work for Liz Truss during the Conservative MP's brief stint as Justice Secretary, before moving to Number 10 in August 2017 as head of political press.

Buchanan left Downing Street last April to take up the role of director of comms at MHCLG.

She has previously described her stint at Number 10 as a "challenging time", but insisted that she left "for family reasons".



Click here to subscribe to the FREE public sector bulletin to receive dedicated public sector news, features and comment straight to your inbox.

Make sure you register for the site to access more than one story per month.

To submit a news, comment, case study or analysis idea for the public sector bulletin, email Ian.Griggs@haymarket.com

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in