Former Scotland first minister attacks perm sec over harassment probe

By on 03/09/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Alex Salmond, pictured with then-deputy first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon in happier times (Image courtesy: Scottish Government).

The head of the UK’s union for senior civil servants has defended Scottish Government permanent secretary Leslie Evans, after the civil service chief came under fire from former first minister Alex Salmond – who objects to the conduct of an investigation into claims of sexual harassment against him.

Salmond, who led the country’s devolved administration from 2007 to 2014, has launched legal action against the administration over its handling of an investigation into two complaints against him. The complaints centre on incidents alleged to have occurred in 2013, and were made earlier this year by two female members of staff after the Scottish Government introduced new anti-harassment complaints procedures; officials have since passed the complaints on to police, who are running their own investigation. Last week, the complaints’ existence was leaked to the Daily Record newspaper.

In a statement announcing his decision to go to court, Salmond criticised Evans, saying she was acting unlawfully in the application of the complaints procedure.
But last week, David Penman, general secretary of the FDA union said that the permanent secretary is only implementing the reformed process agreed with the first minister Nicola Sturgeon in 2017. 

Just following the process

Writing in The Times newspaper, Penman said: “Mr Salmond is being investigated under a Scottish Government process championed by Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, and implemented by Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary and an impartial civil servant. Reading Mr Salmond’s statements, none of this would be obvious.”

“Mr Salmond’s decision to attack the integrity of Scotland’s most senior civil servant is no accident. He would be aware that his supporters would jump on this bandwagon.”

In his statement launching his legal action, Salmond said that all his offers of conciliation, mediation and legal arbitration to resolve the matters had been rejected:
“The permanent secretary chose to deny me contact with any current civil servant, many of whom wished to give evidence on my behalf, and access to documentation to allow me to properly challenge the complaints, all of which I refute and some of which were patently ridiculous.

“The procedure as put into operation by the permanent secretary is grossly unfair and therefore inevitably will lead to prejudicial outcomes.”

Court clash to come

In her own statement the following day, Evans said: “I note that the former first minister has indicated his intention to challenge the actions taken by the Scottish Government.

“His statement contains significant inaccuracies which will be addressed in those court proceedings. The Scottish Government will defend its position vigorously.”

Through separate legal proceedings, Salmond had originally tried to block Evans from announcing the investigation publicly; but he dropped that action.

Tightrope walking

In her own statement on the matter, Sturgeon – who rose to lead the SNP as Salmond’s protégé – said that although the investigations could hurt the party, “the hard fact remains that two complaints were received by the Scottish Government that could not be ignored or swept under the carpet.

“Complaints must be investigated without fear or favour, regardless of the seniority of the person involved.”

Salmond, who has resigned from the SNP in order to bring the judicial review, has raised £100,000 towards his legal costs through a crowd-sourced funding drive. In a statement on his resignation from the party, he again called for an investigation into the source of the leaks to the Daily Record: “Confidentiality has been broken greatly to my detriment and in a way which puts at serious risk the anonymity of both complainants,” he wrote. “It urgently needs to be established who breached that duty of confidentiality and why.”

About Colin Marrs

Colin is a journalist and editor with long experience in the government and built environment sectors. He cut his teeth in local newspaper journalism before moving to Inside Housing in 1999. He has worked in a variety of roles for built environment titles including Planning, Regeneration & Renewal and Property Week. After a spell at advertising industry bible Campaign magazine, he became a freelancer in 2010. Since then he has edited, local government finance publication and contributed news and features to Civil Service World, Architects’ Journal, Social Housing, management titles and written white papers for major corporate and public sector clients.

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