Scottish Government delay providing update on new process for ministerial harassment complaints in wake of Alex Salmond inquiry
Details of the Scottish Government’s new procedure for handling harassment complaints against former and current ministers will not be released until the New Year due to the spread of Omicron.
John Swinney has written to Holyrood’s finance and audit committee asking for more time to provide key documents on the updated procedure and implementation plan promised following the conclusion of the Salmond inquiry in March.
The Scottish Government had committed to establishing an external, independent process with an independent adjudicator to handle formal complaints made about ministers and their behaviour.
A deadline for an update had been agreed for before Christmas.
This was a central recommendation of the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into the failures of the Scottish Government during the fiasco involving the former first minister.
The government had botched the investigation of complaints about Mr Salmond’s behaviour while he was first minister, leading to an embarrassing defeat in court after the former SNP leader launched a judicial review around the investigation.
Taxpayers were forced to pay Mr Salmond at least £500,000 in costs due to the blunders by civil servants.
Accused of misleading Holyrood over her knowledge of the complaints, Nicola Sturgeon also referred herself to the independent adviser on the ministerial code and said she was ready to resign should she have been found to have breached the code.
The Holyrood inquiry concluded she did mislead Parliament, but James Hamilton’s independent report cleared the First Minister of any potential breach.
Mr Salmond was cleared of multiple sexual offence charges at a high-profile trial in Edinburgh last year.
The former mentor of the SNP leader launched his alternative pro-independence party Alba in March this year.
It received less than 2 per cent of the regional list vote and returned no MSPs.
Writing to the finance and audit committee, Mr Swinney requested an extension to the end-of-year deadline for an update to the implementation of the new process.
Documents had been requested before recess, due to start after the end of parliamentary business on Thursday, by the committee.
However, Mr Swinney said: “Officials have been working on the draft, completing the implementation plan and have been engaging with stakeholders on the updated procedure, which is well advanced.
"However, after careful consideration, I propose to engage further with staff and trade unions on the procedure before sending the documents to you before my committee appearance in January.
“I would be very grateful if the committee would give an extension of time until after recess, as the Omicron variant is absorbing the time and priorities of ministers and officials who recognise the importance of this procedure and wish to make it as fair and robust as it can be before presentation to Parliament.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser labelled the delay an “unacceptable failure” and the use of Omicron as an excuse “pathetic”.
He said: “The Government have had months to draw up a new, robust complaints procedure to safeguard potentially vulnerable staff – and yet they are now kicking the can further down the road.
“The Salmond case highlighted the woeful inadequacy of the existing system for dealing with complaints and it’s shameful that no-one has been held accountable for this, as we continue to wait for the new measures the Scottish Government promised.”
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