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Wednesday 07 February 2024

Attacks on Scottish civil servants “having a corrosive effect on public trust”

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FDA National Officer for Scotland Allan Sampson has called on ministers in the Scottish Government to defend their civil servants, after they faced accusations of bias following evidence given to the UK COVID-19 Inquiry.

In a comment piece for the Times, Sampson championed “civil servants vital contribution to protecting the lives and wellbeing” of Scottish citizens during the pandemic.

“In unprecedented times and under incredible pressure to make decisions and act quickly, I know our members did their best to abide by the values of the civil service, acting with integrity, honesty and impartiality to provide the support and challenge ministers needed,” he explained.

In such a constantly evolving situation, some mistakes were inevitable. Sampson wrote that “lessons must be learnt from what went right and indeed what went wrong” but stressed that it’s important to “ascertain what were genuine mistakes, made in good faith with the best information available at the time, and those that should have been avoided”.

In comments also reported on by the Times’ Mike Wade, Sampson disputed some of the broader commentary surrounding the work of the inquiry that has sought to “paint civil servants as political operatives seeking to cover up for the government at Holyrood”.

“For this to go unchallenged sets a dangerous precedent,” Sampson said. “A civil servant’s duty of impartiality means they cannot speak up to defend themselves publicly, so it is the responsibility of ministers to defend them. We’ve seen this far too often in Westminster over recent years, where politicians have been more than willing to throw their staff under a bus for political expediency.”

Acknowledging that there are “legitimate questions to answer” about the Scottish Government’s internal policies on preserving an “official record” of decision-making, Sampson said it was “right” for a full review of these to take place.

“Where things have clearly gone wrong they should be fully investigated, but to suggest that large swathes of Scottish civil servants were working in contravention of the civil service code just isn’t based in reality, and is having a corrosive effect on public trust in our institutions,” he concluded.

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