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Swinney: Hiring six investigators is not because of backlog of harassment cases

John Swinney explained the reason for hiring six external investigators (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)
John Swinney explained the reason for hiring six external investigators (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

The number of external investigators appointed by the Scottish Government to handle complaints about current and former ministers is to allow for flexibility, not due to outstanding cases, MSPs have heard.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney appeared before Holyrood’s Finance Committee on Tuesday, giving evidence on the Government’s improvement programme.

The appointments were made following the mishandling of the Scottish Government’s investigation into claims of sexual harassment by Alex Salmond.

The investigation into the former first minister was successfully challenged in the courts, which prompted a lengthy inquiry by a Holyrood committee.

Alex Salmond
Former first minister Alex Salmond appeared at the Scottish Parliament Harassment committee last year (Andy Buchanan/PA)

New rules around formal complaints of bullying, harassment and discrimination made by civil servants were subsequently introduced in February.

Mr Swinney confirmed to the committee that six external investigators and five external decision makers have completed their induction.

He said the individuals will be retained, receiving a daily rate to reflect the work they undertake.

“Should there be a case to be investigated or decided upon, there would be a selection process undertaken to identify who from the panel was suitable to undertake that investigation,” Mr Swinney explained.

The Deputy First Minister was asked how the figures of six and five were reached.

Mr Swinney said a “crucial” issue within the selection of investigators and decision makers is that the individual will have no conflict of interest in the case, and so the numbers reflect “range and flexibility” for the selection process rather than the number of cases requiring investigation.

The Deputy First Minister confirmed that routine training and development for members of staff on the procedures is taking place.

Steps have been taken to ensure staff are aware of the complaints process, he said, so they can be “properly handled”.

When asked which specific behaviours need to change, Mr Swinney said: “Any behaviour that is incompatible with those values (of the Government) is the behaviour that has to change.

“We are setting it out, in what I would say is a proactive and positive way, about what are the values of the organisation, what we expect members of staff to see.

“So that is openly communicated to members of staff, and any individual that believes they are in a circumstance, a working environment, which is not consistent or conducive to those values is essentially invited to and given a platform to raise their concerns through the internal processes of the Scottish Government.”

Leslie Evans
Former permanent secretary Leslie Evans has been accused of ‘failure to engage’ with the Finance Committee (Russell Cheyne/PA)

He told the committee there has been a positive response in staff surveys on the reduction of unacceptable behaviour, and that staff are aware of the efforts being made to ensure there is an appropriate culture within the Scottish Government.

Mr Swinney added that he does not want to view success based on a declining number of cases, but rather the ability to demonstrate how progress is being made.

It was suggested to Mr Swinney that there was concern over the ability to carry out effective scrutiny after former permanent secretary, Leslie Evans, “failed to engage” with the panel.

Ms Evans was a key figure in the investigations carried out in the aftermath of allegations against Mr Salmond.

“I don’t share that view,” Mr Swinney responded, “because of the fact that there was extensive scrutiny of that process undertaken by a specific parliamentary committee prior to the 2021 election, to which the former permanent secretary made, if my memory serves me right, more than one appearance.”

He added: “The issues that, I think, pertained about all that went on at that period, have been openly scrutinised by a committee of Parliament.”