Commissioner who presided over 'disturbing' failings at Scotland standards watchdog resigns

The commissioner who presided over ‘disturbing’ failings at Scotland’s standards watchdog has resigned more than a year after going on ‘extended leave’, ending years of acrimony within the standards system.

Caroline Anderson, who was appointed to the role in 2019, was also understood to have threatened the Scottish Parliament with an employment dispute – an unprecedented move for a parliamentary commissioner.

It can be revealed she resigned her role as Ethical Standards Commissioner with immediate effect on June 14, 2022, backdated to April 30, ending what the Parliament described as an “untenable situation for all parties”.

Her tenure as commissioner was due to run until March 31, 2024.

Ms Anderson was central in the effective collapse of Scotland’s standards framework after the relationship between her office and the Standards Commission of Scotland, which adjudicates on complaints against councillors, broke down irreparably.

This led to a formal complaint about Ms Anderson’s conduct being submitted to the Scottish Parliament by the Standards Commission in April last year.

In February, The Scotsman detailed how the relationship between the two bodies collapsed and how around 93 per cent of complaints were dismissed outright by the commissioner.

After an agreement for her to resign was reached, Holyrood will also pay Ms Anderson three months basic pay in lieu of notice, worth around £18,000 based on her basic salary of £73,000, with her total salary worth up to £85,000 after pension contributions.

The head of Scotland's standards watchdog has resigned, with the Scottish Parliament now advertising for a replacement.

A central role in Scotland’s standards framework, the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life is responsible for investigating complaints about the conduct of MSPs, councillors, and members of public bodies and lobbyists.

The role has been undertaken by Ian Bruce as Acting Commissioner since April 20 last year when Ms Anderson went on ‘extended leave’, but continued to receive her salary.

The status of her threat of an employment dispute with the Parliament is unknown.

However, the Scottish Parliament confirmed that despite her official role as a parliamentary officeholder meaning that dismissal would technically require a vote of Parliament, there was no vote or division by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

An Audit Scotland report published in December 2021 described “disturbing” failings at the ethical standards body under the leadership of Ms Anderson.

Stephen Boyle, the Auditor General, said there was an “overarching risk” of a “loss of public trust” in the ability of the Commissioner’s Office to investigate complaints made against those in public life.

Following her resignation, the Scottish Parliament has begun advertising for her replacement, who will earn £77,260.

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “To bring about a mutually acceptable resolution for all parties concerned, and for welfare reasons, Caroline Anderson agreed to resign with immediate effect in June 2022 and the SPCB pay the equivalent of three months’ basic pay less tax in lieu of a notice period.

“The agreement brought to an end an untenable situation for all parties adversely affected by it, and one that has seen an acting Ethical Standards Commissioner carry out the role since April 20, 2021.

“The SPCB has begun an external recruitment process to appoint a new commissioner."

The Ethical Standards Commissioner’s office and the Standards Commission of Scotland has been contacted for comment.

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