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Tuesday 01 September 2020

FDA renews call for independent process for handling Scottish Government harassment complaints

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Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Committee on the Scottish Government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints, FDA General Secretary Dave Penman has called for a fully independent process for dealing with complaints, arguing that those who might be investigated should not be the ones deciding what the procedure should be.

During the evidence session, he highlighted the importance of the principles of “independence of investigation and independence of decision making”. He added that “we wouldn’t be here if we’d had a fully independent process”.

Penman told MSPs that the anecdotal evidence compiled by the FDA suggested there was a particular issue with complaints around ministerial conduct in the Scottish Government. He explained to the committee that the FDA had been made aware of around thirty individuals working in the Scottish Government with concerns about ministerial behaviour over the last decade, with only a handful of instances across the rest of the UK civil service in the same period. The cases related to “multiple ministers and multiple administrations,” Penman added, which was why it had been vital that the process extended to both current and former ministers.

Penman acknowledged that the Scottish Government was still the only part of government with a bespoke policy for dealing with these kinds of complaints against ministers, but pointed out that the it had focussed on “solving a series of problems rather than stepping back and addressing the bigger problem.” The cases brought to the FDA’s attention suggested that the Scottish Government was not addressing the workplace culture, accepted norms or patterns of behaviour. “When people raised a concern they would be the one that was moved, rather than addressing the broader problem.”

When questioned by MSPs about the FDA’s description of a ‘culture of fear’ in the Scottish Government, and members being unable to speak truth to power, Penman stood by the description, saying the FDA had “thought very carefully about the language we used in our evidence”. He pointed out that while the current harassment policy did represent progress on what had gone before, staff obviously still did not have confidence in it. He concluded by arguing that “political point-scoring is what influences how these issues are dealt with and this is why politicians should not have responsibility for marking their own homework”.

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