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by Kirsteen Paterson
05 September 2023
Anti-poverty commissioners and chair quit Scottish Government advisory body

Shirley-Anne Somerville has written to the Social Justice and Social Security Committee

Anti-poverty commissioners and chair quit Scottish Government advisory body

Ministers face appointing temporary members to a key anti-poverty body after three members and the chair quit.

Three members of the Poverty and Inequality Commission have stepped down after an "extremely stressful and anxious period" when they were nominated for reappointment without their knowledge.

The members said they had been nominated by Bill Scott, the chair of the official body - and he too has now stepped down, citing health grounds.

The details have emerged in correspondence sent to the Scottish Parliament's Social Justice and Social Security Committee last month.

In further letters to the committee, Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said it will not be possible to replace the members before their notice period is up, and ministers will have to make interim appointments to avoid breaching their own regulations.

The panel was set up under the terms of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act to advise the government on how to tackle deprivation.

Letters from commissioners Linda Bamford, Shona Stephen and Lindsay Graham state that they have lost "confidence and trust" in Scott, tendering their resignations to Somerville on 9 August as a result of the "professionally compromised and untenable situation [they] were put in".

Accepting the resignations, Somerville told them they must complete their notice period, saying: "I appreciate the situation that has arisen is stressful for all concerned and am aware that sponsor officials have been mindful to emphasise the importance of the wellbeing of all parties in the discussions they have had with you on these issues and have offered mediation and support to resolve.

"Given I cannot act in a way that puts Scottish ministers in a breach of the law by accepting your early resignation, I am, of course, keen to ensure that appropriate support is put in place to enable all to participate and balance wellbeing."

Responding to Scott's letter of resignation, which was sent just days later, Somerville said: "I am grateful for all that you have delivered during your time as chair, particularly the sensitivity with which you have engaged with the very real challenges that have faced far too many in society over recent times and the particular impact this has had on those living in poverty and with other inequalities."

In a letter to the committee, Somerville advised that timescales for the appointment of new commissioners must be "reconsidered" as a result of the resignations. 

She said: "Unfortunately it will not be possible to conclude the new appointments process before the end of the three month notice period and therefore Scottish ministers will seek approval from the Ethical Standards Commissioner to make interim appointments to ensure the effective operation of the commission until new commissioners can be put in place. 

"My officials are working at pace to ensure that we can conclude these processes as soon as possible and I will write to you again in due course to seek your view on the scrutiny you will wish to undertake regarding the interim appointments, to advise of revisions to the timetable for new appointments, and to reconfirm the scrutiny that you wish to undertake in the appointments process, taking account of the changed circumstances."

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