A former senior civil servant who led the government’s Covid taskforce has apologised for having leaving drinks during lockdown before Christmas 2020.
Kate Josephs, who is now chief executive of Sheffield city council, said she was “truly sorry” for the event on 17 December – one day before No 10 held its Christmas party.
The gathering, first revealed by the Telegraph, saw “dozens” of officials from the Cabinet Office’s Covid-19 taskforce attending the event, while the country was in lockdown.
On that same day, the government’s official Twitter feed replied to a query asking if employers could hold Christmas parties at the end of the working day.
It said: “Hi Mick, although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”
Josephs tweeted a statement apologising for what happened, saying: “As people know I previously worked in the Cabinet Office Covid taskforce where I was director general from July 2020 to 18 December 2020.
“I have been cooperating fully with the Cabinet Office investigations and I do not want to pre-empt the findings of the investigation. However as chief executive of Sheffield city council I am responsible for leading the organisation and working with partners across the city and region to support our Covid response and recovery. That is why I have decided to make a statement.
“On the evening of 17 December, I gathered with colleagues that were at work that day, with drinks, in our office in the Cabinet Office, to mark my leaving the civil service.
“I am truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result. Sheffield has suffered greatly during this pandemic, and I apologise unreservedly.
“The specific facts of this event will be considered in the context of the Cabinet Office investigation. I did not attend any events at 10 Downing St. I am grateful for the ongoing support of colleagues and partners and need now to ask that people allow the Cabinet Office to complete its investigation.”
Terry Fox, leader of Sheffield city council, said: “To be honest I need to express my deep disappointment – people will rightly feel angry and let down. I get that completely.
“After everything that Sheffield has been through during the pandemic, this is news that we did not want to receive.
“Over the last year, Kate’s been an asset to our city and she is working tirelessly for Sheffield and its people. Our residents will understandably have questions and concerns, and we await the findings of the investigation.”
It is the second report of a leaving drinks in Downing Street to have emerged in the last 24 hours. James Slack, the former director of communications, was revealed to have had a leaving do during lockdown on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, leading Downing Street to apologise to the Queen.