Scottish Government’s HR boss questioned over botched investigation into Alex Salmond harassment complaints
The Scottish Government’s head of HR has come under scrutiny over decisions to share a draft policy on harassment complaints against ministers with a woman who went on to formally complain about former First Minister Alex Salmond using the new procedure.
Nicola Richards, the government’s Director of People, said sharing the information was designed to enable those with “lived experience” to determine whether a new policy would have an impact on their decision to complain about a former or current minister.
Richards was giving evidence to the committee on the Scottish Government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints which was set up to look at the way complaints against Salmond were investigated.
The Scottish Government was forced to pay Salmond more than £500,000 in costs after its investigation of complaints was found to be unlawful at a judicial review.
During her evidence, Richards revealed that two individuals – who had previously raised concerns which would come within the remit of the new policy – had had the chance to look at the draft procedure and that one of these women had later gone on to make a formal complaint against Salmond.
Linda Fabiani, committee convener, said: “I would be interested to know why it wasn’t shared with any other members of staff who had raised concerns about bullying or harassment who had raised concerns before to see whether this was an improvement to the process they went through or whether it wouldn’t have made a difference.”
Richards said because “very, very few” people had raised concerns about ministers, there wasn’t a “wide staff group” with the relevant lived experience.
She stated that the purpose of sharing the draft policy was to see whether it “would have made a difference to them at the time” and to determine whether the policy could help prevent "these kinds of things" happening in the future.
Richards was also questioned about the appointment of Judith MacKinnon to the role of senior investigating officer looking into the allegations made against Salmond.
The appointment of MacKinnon was central to the whole process being deemed unlawful and tainted by bias after it emerged the apparently independent investigator had previously met and counselled two women who made the initial allegations against Salmond.
Richards told the inquiry that the process was applied "robustly" when it came to designating a senior civil servant to investigate the harassment complaints.
"They were not even in the organisation at the point when the events were alleged to have occurred", she said.
Richards also admitted to disclosing to one of the complainants that MacKinnon would “likely” take the role of senior investigating officer if they did decide to move to a formal complaint.
As part of the same evidence session – the fourth meeting of the inquiry – committee members heard from James Hynd, Head of Cabinet, Parliament and Governance Division at the Scottish Government.
Hynd took the lead on drafting the policy on handling complaints involving former and current ministers, and also advised on the links between the procedure and the Ministerial Code.
He said that in drawing up the new harassment procedure, he identified “a gap” and as a result, he included former ministers into the policy.
"It was the right thing to do, to fill the gap", he told the committee.
Fabiani asked Hynd whether he was aware that a copy of the draft procedure had been sent to a complainant. Hynd said he was not aware at that time or for many months afterwards, but added that no changes were made to the policy as a result of it being shared.
Hynd was also questioned on whether he was aware of any rumours or “scuttlebutt” concerning Salmond.
He said: "Things were said, whether they were true or not I have no idea."
The inquiry continues.