'Utterly useless': Hundreds of Scottish civil service external roles redacted in response to second jobs concerns

The Scottish Government have made it “impossible” for the public to check whether the more than 450 civil servants holding external roles could pose a conflict of interest after releasing a document where almost every role is redacted, it can be revealed.

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to publish the details of second jobs held by senior civil servants
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to publish the details of second jobs held by senior civil servants

The list of second jobs and external roles held by civil servants in the Scottish Government was disclosed to The Scotsman via a Freedom of Information request.

However, the list of more than 450 external interests is completely anonymised, with no senior civil servants named and almost all roles redacted, making it impossible to cross-reference the roles with any potential conflicts of interest.

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The redactions are currently the subject of an appeal by this newspaper.

According to an analysis of the roles by The Scotsman, around a quarter of the external interests had expired by the date of disclosure, with more than 350 still actively held by civil servants within the Scottish Government.

It comes after significant criticism of potential double-jobbing in Whitehall after it was revealed a senior civil servant had advised the finance firm Greensill while still working for the civil service.

Bill Crothers, who began advising Greensill bank in September 2015, remained in his Westminster role until November that year and from then continued to work for the finance firm.

He denied to a Westminster inquiry that holding both roles was a conflict of interest

Greensill was also involved in a lobbying scandal involving former prime minister David Cameron and sparked an investigation into double jobbing amid civil servants.

The lack of transparency around the roles was criticised by opposition parties, with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie labelling the list of roles disclosed by the Scottish Government “utterly useless”.

He said: "After the scandalous revelations over double jobbing and conflicts of interest in Westminster, you would think that the Scottish Government would want to open the books and demonstrate that there were no such problems here.

"Instead the Government have delivered a document so racked with redactions as to be utterly useless.

"I hope that there is currently a civil servant going through these records and working out if there are any conflicts of interest at play because the government have made it impossible for the public to do so.

"In the absence of convincing documentation, the First Minister should say what measures are being taken to prevent a similar scandal from unfolding at the heart of the Scottish Government."

Around 50 of the active roles are where civil servants are company directors, with around 85 sitting on advisory councils or on the board of an organisation.

A further 100 include part-time work such as university lecturing roles or personal businesses such as crofts or a farm business, with around 60 civil servants serving as trustees for charities.

Reacting, Scottish Labour finance spokesman Daniel Johnson said the system as it is exists could be “subject to abuse” and called for a register of interests for senior civil servants to “keep public confidence in the system”.

He said: “It is clear that taking on outside roles can be a huge benefit to both the civil service and the individual involved.

“But it’s is also obvious that it is a system that could be subject to abuse from organisations attempting to use it to their own advantage.

“The only way to ensure that isn’t the case is for the detailed information needed to make an assessment on if there is a potential conflict of interest to be in the public domain.

“Otherwise the system will lose the confidence of the public and leave our civil service poorer for it.”

A Scottish Conservative spokesperson added: “The SNP Government should be as transparent as possible.

“While there are clear privacy concerns around releasing some of this information, it does seem that they are keeping basic information hidden.

“Given the concerns that have been voiced, including by many in the SNP, they can’t hide from scrutiny.”

Responding, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to being open and transparent and aim to reply to all FOI requests in line with the legislation. Civil servants are expected to disclose any external activity or interest that could be a potential source of conflict, not just second roles.

“As the FOI request is currently being reviewed, we will not make a comment that might pre-judge the outcome of that review.”

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