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by Louise Wilson
18 November 2020
Civil service union criticises harassment committee conduct

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Civil service union criticises harassment committee conduct

The civil servants’ union has hit out at the conduct of the Holyrood committee tasked with investigating the botched handling of complaints against the former first minister.

In a letter to the committee, the FDA union said the committee had often “fallen short of our expectation of an inquiry” operating in a semi-judicial capacity.

And it warned that this could create a perception that MSPs were “reaching a conclusion while the process is still in train”.

The committee is investigating what went wrong with a Scottish Government probe into complaints of harassment against Alex Salmond, after the government was found by judicial review to have acted unlawfully and was forced to award Salmond over £500,000 in legal expenses.

Several civil servants have appeared before the committee to provide evidence on behalf of ministers.

But they have also been the focus of criticism after having to write to the committee to correct information given under oath.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, wrote: “Witnesses have indicated that they do not recall or would have to check facts, yet have been subject to comments about selective memory or concerns expressed about why they cannot recall or respond at that given time.

“Given the obligations of providing evidence under oath, the fact that it is a considerable time since conversations and engagement took place and the sheer quantity of documentation, these comments, for public consumption, fall below the standards civil servants can rightly expect from a parliamentary committee.”

Penman criticised MSPs for offering “personal opinion” or making “political points or personal remarks” about evidence received from the civil service, suggesting “it would appear the obligations and standards that follow only apply selectively to witnesses and not the committee itself.”

Requesting the names of staff below senior level and retweeting articles which have made “derogatory comments” about civil servants were also raised as concerns.

Penman warned: “I am sure you can understand that this could lead to a perception that some of the committee members are reaching a conclusion while the process is still in train and falls below the standards civil servants should expect of parliamentarians who are conducting such an important inquiry.

“This can only damage the credibility of the process and any potential conclusion it may reach.”

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