ALEX SALMOND ASKS WHY?

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said  “The Parliamentary Committee unanimously found that Leslie Evans as Permanent Secretary was not just corporately but individually responsible for the “prolonged, expensive and unsuccessful defence” of the Judicial Review of her procedure which the Court of Session found to be “unlawful”, “unfair” and “tainted by apparent bias”. The CommitteeContinue reading "ALEX SALMOND ASKS WHY?"

ALEX SALMOND ASKS WHY?

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said 

“The Parliamentary Committee unanimously found that Leslie Evans as Permanent Secretary was not just corporately but individually responsible for the “prolonged, expensive and unsuccessful defence” of the Judicial Review of her procedure which the Court of Session found to be “unlawful”, “unfair” and “tainted by apparent bias”.

The Committee said that those responsible should be held “accountable”. However, instead of asking for her resignation the Scottish Government seems to have afforded her every possible financial advantage on her retirement. The question is why?”

Relevant extracts from Committee Report.

598. The Committee concludes that the Scottish Government was responsible from an early stage for a serious, substantial and entirely avoidable situation that resulted in a prolonged, expensive and unsuccessful defence of the Petition. The Committee finds that this state of affairs is unacceptable by an organisation such as the Scottish Government and that those responsible should be held accountable.

599. The Committee is conscious that the Permanent Secretary’s office was identified as coordinating the supply of information for the judicial review and that the Permanent Secretary was one of a few people who had been aware of the prior contact of the Investigating Officer. It must be questioned why the Permanent Secretary in her role and with her knowledge did not ensure that the relevant information was extracted and processed at a much earlier stage. This individual failing is as significant as the general corporate failing already described.

Last week the Scottish Government published their answer to a FOI request

https://www.gov.scot/publications/foi-202200303395/

You can check it out but not a lot of information was provided was there?

BEFORE WE GO ANY FURTHER CAN I REMIND EVERYBODY LESLIE EVANS REFUSED TO APPEAR BEFORE A PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE TO REVIEW HER TIME IN OFFICE.

As Holyrood Magazine reminds us

“Permanent secretary Leslie Evans has refused to appear before Holyrood’s Finance and Public Administration Committee five months after first being asked to attend to “reflect on her time in office”.

After what has been termed “ongoing dialogue” following a formal invitation in January, her office has now said she will be on leave until her retirement on the last day of this month.( March 2022)

Convenor Kenneth Gibson said the panel is “extremely disappointed at the discourtesy shown” by her “failure to engage”, something that has been taken as an effective refusal to appear.

In a letter to Gibson sent on 7 March, Evans’ office stated that her leave had started on 31 December and was ongoing. It further stated that she was unable to “speak on behalf of or represent the views of Scottish ministers” and is “effectively no longer a post-holder within the Scottish Government”.

In a response made public today, ( 10th March) Gibson wrote that “at no point” had she been asked to speak for a minister, adding: “We have been absolutely clear at all times that our interest lay in your own reflections, not those of ministers, to support the committee in developing a clearer understanding of the workings of government in our new public administration role.

“Very few people have the opportunity to gain your level of experience in government, which we considered would have been beneficial in informing our future scrutiny.”

Interestingly the Committee Convenor seems to have thought he understood what might be behind Ms Evans reluctance, so in a reply he stated “ We are firmly of the view that it is in the public interest for the committee to hear from civil servants as part of our public administration remit. You remain in the employment of the Scottish Government and we do not accept that your period of leave exempts you from giving evidence to a parliamentary committee.”

Evans was a key player in the investigations launched in the wake of the allegations levelled against former first minister Alex Salmond. In his letter, Gibson stated that “reassurances have repeatedly been given that the evidence session was not intended to revisit events previously considered by the committee on the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints”. Evans left office at the end of March and the Committee gave up trying to get her to appear before them.

If she was honest in her evidence and thought the case against Salmond has been presented honestly why would she need assurances nobody would ask her questions about it? Yet even with this assurance being granted the leading civil servant in the most senior position felt she was entitled to rebuff the Parliamentary Committee. The fear is strong in this one. It would be fascinating to know of any other examples in Parliaments around the World where this could happen. This seems to be a quite astonishing rebuff but perhaps this is all part of a secret deal? Did the First Minister make any attempt to instruct her to attend? Of course not!

Remember this woman was employed for years as the most senior Civil Servant. The permanent secretary to the Scottish Government. By refusing to appear before the committee she is signalling that she believes she is now untouchable. I have some suggestions at the end of this article which may inflict a cost on her professional reputation.

Let’s look at the evidence. Or likelihood of a secret deal? Ms Evans was deeply involved in creating the deeply flawed disciplinary procedures used to accuse Mr Salmond. She knew from the outset of the Judicial process that one of her staff had a conflict of interest and had interviewed the complainant and also been involved in drawing up the code. She did not reveal this to the Government’s legal team. This directly led to the judge criticising the Scottish Government defence as being unlawful, unfair and tinged with apparent bias.

She was also totally responsible for the seven different instances the Judge COMPLAINED about the Scottish Government withholding documents and information from the Inquiry.

Their defence collapsed and was eventually thrown out, after the Scottish Government’s own legal counsel threatened to withdraw unless the proper information and documents were supplied.

These “errors” resulted in Mr Salmond winning just over £500,000 towards his legal costs and while no figure has been put on Government costs they must also have been very substantial.

Normally a senior civil servant making such a serious catalogue of errors would expect to be sacked. Not Ms Evans Nicola Sturgeon steadfastly refused to sack her. Instead she rewarded Ms Evans with a two year contract extension.

Ms Evans of course was recorded as stating “ we may have lost the battle but we will win the war”. Clearly feeling contrite about her mistakes!”

Bad enough but it does not end there Ms Evans has now left her post but the financial arrangements of her departure remain clouded from public view.

We know her annual salary was £175,000 and her annual pension is £85,000 per annum after a £255,000 initial payoff but there are a number of other financial arrangements that require explanation.

Seemingly when she left she claimed pay for 19.5 days of unused holiday pay entitlement. Fair enough but she was also awarded 3 months of pay on leaving the Civil Service. This is normally unpaid as it is a legal requirement to ensure there is a delay between leaving the civil service and taking up any outside post. It can rarely however be paid in special circumstances. What were those special circumstances? There are also news reports about special “compensation” payments. I think all this requires a special statement clearing up these matters from the Scottish Government. I don’t really accept their reluctance to make public these arrangements.

This is an employee who presided over years of confusion, obstruction, redaction and delay. Whose evidence during the Salmond enquiry was in my view dubious at best. Throughout she was evasive. In this she was not alone but despite having been briefed in advance on what to say and how to say it like others it became necessary in many cases to issue “correction” stories as her team were badly exposed, even by the less than professional cross examination.

I raise these points because there seems a trend amongst those involved in the Salmond plot, who have all enjoyed promoted posts, contract extensions, compensation payments when there was no contractual responsibility, which all seems to point to a keep quiet strategy at the very top. That several of them were amongst the tight group still being investigated by the police over the leak to the Daily Record may also be a factor.

Here is what I hope happens next, pay attention Messrs Sarwar and Ross. Get your pens out gentlemen and write to the First Minister as follows

What do you think of Leslie Evans refusal to face questions at a Parliamentary Committee to explain her impressions of her period in office? Is that something you approve of?

Does the Scottish Government need to develop a code to ensure civil servants need to recognise it is the elected members, not civil servants, no matter how senior, that can dictate attendance at Parliamentary Committees?

Have you, or would you write a reference for Ms Evans and recommend her to other potential employers?

Have you any idea First Minister why she seems paranoid to answer questions about the whole Alex Salmond show trial and Inquiry that went so horribly wrong? Did she speak to you about this before she left?

I am, as always

YOURS FOR SCOTLAND

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