Trade unions who said there was a “culture of fear” in Alex Salmond’s government are to give evidence to the Holyrood investigation into the handling of harassment allegations against the former first minister.
The committee on the Scottish Government handling of harassment complaints will hear from representatives of two civil servants’ trade unions, FDA general secretary Dave Penman and Malcolm Clark, the convenor of the Council of Scottish Government.
In written evidence ahead of their appearance before MSPs, Mr Penman said the FDA had raised concerns a decade ago about the culture and “bullying behaviour” in the former first minister’s office and other ministerial departments.
Mr Penman wrote: “The culture within the former first minister’s office and other ministerial offices in relation to bullying behaviour became a concern for us and was raised with successive permanent secretaries.
“Although action was taken and short-term improvements or apologies were made, this did not bring about an overall change in culture.
“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 written submission revealed that approximately 30 union members have made complaints about five ministerial offices in the past 10 years.
Mr Penman added that union members “did not trust (the Scottish Government) to handle complaints effectively” or to ensure confidentiality of the complainants, fearing that raising formal complaints would be “detrimental” to their careers.
Asked about claims, current permanent secretary to the Scottish Government Leslie Evans said she was “aware of concerns raised in the past”, but added: “I don’t recognise the term ‘culture of fear’.”
Mr Penman also said that, despite Scotland being the only part of the UK civil service with a clear process for civil servants to raise complaints about ministers, the policy has not stopped the concerning behaviour within government.
“This has not proved effective in eliminating behaviour that raises concern,” he wrote.
“We can see no sign of any discernible reduction in the number of concerns raised by members.”
The Holyrood investigation into the handling of harassment claims was launched following the unlawful attempt to investigate claims made against Mr Salmond.
A legal challenge by Mr Salmond – who was also cleared in court of 13 charges of sexual assault – led to a judicial review at the Court of Session that found the process had been “tainted by apparent bias” because of contact between the lead investigator and some of the accusers.
As a result, the Scottish Government had to pay more than £500,000 for Mr Salmond’s legal costs.
The inquiry has so far heard from Ms Evans, Scotland’s most senior civil servant, as well as James Hynd, the head of the cabinet, parliament and governance Division within the Scottish Government, and Nicola Richards, the Scottish Government’s director of people.
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