Scotland’s most senior civil servant to be first witness before Salmond inquiry

PA

Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans will be questioned by MSPs investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment allegations against former first minister Alex Salmond.

Scotland’s most senior civil servant is the first witness to appear before members of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, which was set up last year.

It came after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the Scottish Government’s actions in dealing with the complaints made were “unlawful” – with ministers paying out £512,250.

Mr Salmond, who was this year cleared of 13 sexual offences by a jury, will give evidence to the committee at a later date – as will his successor, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The committee has already agreed the unusual step of taking evidence from witnesses under oath.

Tuesday’s meeting comes after a union representing civil servants raised concerns about “bullying behaviour” within the Scottish Government.

In a submission to the committee, Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, said by the time the Scottish Government published a Fairness at Work policy in 2010 “the culture within the former first minister’s office and other ministerial offices in relation to bullying behaviour became a concern for us”.

The issue was raised with successive permanent secretaries, Mr Penman said, adding while action was taken “and short-term improvements or apologies were made, this did not bring about an overall change in culture”.

He told the committee: “Some civil servants expressed to us that they were operating in a culture of fear and were unable to speak truth unto power and discharge their duties effectively.

“The culture within the ministerial offices in the organisation was such that despite the support of FDA, some members made clear to us that they did not trust SG (Scottish Government) to handle complaints effectively or to ensure confidentiality of the complainants.

“They furthermore expressed concerns over the effectiveness of the policies at that time.

“In particular, members in the former first minister’s office indicated that they felt isolated and out of the policy protection of the rest of the SG.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has said it will not waive legal professional privilege when providing documents to the committee.

Convener Linda Fabiani previously said MSPs are concerned by “the limited information the Scottish Government has offered to justify the grounds for applying legal professional privilege”.

But Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the privilege, which means private legal advice between a member of the profession and a client is able to remain secret, will remain in place during the inquiry.