Government’s new complaints procedure to tackle bullying and harassment

It looks at the handling of formal complaints by civil servants about the behaviour of a minister or former minister.

Government’s new complaints procedure to tackle bullying and harassment iStock
The need for a new procedure was identified by a review into the mishandling of harassment complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond.

John Swinney has pledged the Scottish Government’s new complaints procedure will help to embed a culture where bullying and harassment “is not tolerated”.

It comes after the publication of the updated procedure for handling formal complaints by civil servants about the behaviour of a minister or former minister.

The need for a new procedure was identified by a review into the mishandling of harassment complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond.

Salmond was awarded more than £500,000 after the Court of Session ruled the Scottish Government’s handling of those complaints was “tainted by apparent bias”.

Publication of the new procedures had been due before the Scottish Parliament’s Christmas recess, but the deadline was not met, with focus turned towards tackling the Omicron variant.

Under the procedure, external, independent investigators and adjudicators will handle formal complaints of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

The Scottish Government will then be responsible for acting on the final decision if the complaint is upheld.

The new procedure will be reviewed further by unions, staff and Parliament before it comes into operation in February 2022.

Deputy first minister John Swinney said it is crucial those involved in a complaints procedure have confidence in the process.

“The Scottish Government has learned valuable lessons and is putting the interests of those making complaints at the heart of plans to improve the handling of future issues,” said Swinney.

“The updated procedure is part of the organisation’s commitment to embedding a culture where bullying and harassment is not tolerated and where there is trust in how matters will be handled if things go wrong.

“Where a complaint is necessary it is crucial those involved have confidence and can engage constructively and fairly in the process.”

Swinney outlined the importance of building a “positive and respectful culture” with the highest behavioural standards.

He said: “We are determined to make this procedure as robust as possible for those raising a formal complaint, which is why we will invite our independent advisers to offer advice on any necessary adjustments to the Scottish ministerial code in the context of this update to ensure ministers engage fully with it.   

“This on-going work is informed by our engagement with trade unions and employees, including those with lived experiences of bullying and harassment.

“It is crucial in helping us build a positive and respectful culture with the highest standards of behaviour so that the Scottish Government can continue to carry out its programme delivering for the people of Scotland.” 

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser described the new procedure as a “step in the right direction”, but said that the “devil will be in the detail”.

“The SNP have belatedly got their act together after delaying the publication of these new procedures for far too long,” said Fraser.

“It was completely unacceptable that they failed to meet their own deadline for getting these new procedures in place by the end of last year.

“John Swinney even tried to blame the emergence of the Omicron variant for kicking the plans into the long grass, despite them first being announced last June.

“That pitiful excuse once again let down the women who bravely came forward to make serious allegations against such a senior figure.”

He added: “This new procedure is a step in the right direction but the devil will be in the detail. We will carefully scrutinise the updated procedure to guarantee it is fit for purpose.

“The inquiry into the former First Minister highlighted the woeful inadequacies of the current procedures for making complaints and those shameful mistakes can never be allowed to happen again.”