Extraordinary letter sees MSPs accuse former permanent secretary Leslie Evans of 'discourtesy' after she rejects committee invitation

The civil servant who was a central character in the botched handling of harassment complaints made against Alex Salmond has been accused of “discourtesy” by MSPs in an extraordinary letter after refusing an invitation to give evidence at a Holyrood committee.

Leslie Evans, the former permanent secretary, was invited to give evidence on her time in the role to the Scottish Parliament’s finance committee.

However, she has rejected this invitation, leaving MSPs furious and “extremely disappointed”.

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Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans gives evidence to a Scottish Parliament committee, at Holyrood in Edinburgh, examining the handling of harassment allegations against former first minister Alex Salmond.

Ms Evans, who was replaced by John-Paul Marks earlier this year, is on a period of leave following her departure before her retirement at the end of this month.

After an extended period of discussions while the civil servant was still in post, and assurances the committee would not revisit the issues of the Salmond Inquiry and her handling of the investigation of the harassment complaints, the office of the permanent secretary turned down the offer.

In a letter, officials state Ms Evans is “effectively no longer a post-holder within the Scottish Government and is not able to speak on behalf of or represent the views of ministers”.

However, MSPs on the finance and public administration committee said this was a “failure to engage directly” with the committee, and said the evidence session was intended to be a personal reflection of the civil servant’s time in the role.

In a rare, excoriating letter, committee convener Kenneth Gibson, an SNP MSP, said the committee was “extremely disappointed at the discourtesy shown to the Parliament”.

He said: “Indeed, as we indicated in our invitation, this session was due to focus on broad issues within the committee’s newly-added public administration remit, such as how government functions, the capacity and capability of the civil service, culture, and how policies are developed and implemented.”

He continued: “We are therefore extremely disappointed at the discourtesy shown to the Parliament by your failure to engage directly with the committee at any stage regarding our invitation, despite our best efforts.

"When we finally received a response, it was not from you, but from the Office of the Permanent Secretary, stating that, as you are now on a period of leave … you are not able to speak on behalf, or represent the views, of Scottish ministers.

"At no point have we asked you to do so. 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.”

Mr Gibson added: “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, in the way suggested in the response we received.”

The letter continues, with Mr Gibson stating the committee does not “intend to waste any more time pursuing this matter”.

Ms Evans is still being paid her £175,000 salary by the Scottish Government and is set to retire with a pension worth £85,000 per year and around £255,000 up front.

The Scottish Government was contacted for comment.

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