Transparent as Mud

Civil servants always keep excellent records and notes - it's what they do and how they're trained.

So it's all the more unbelievable that Scotland top civil servant, Leslie Evans could not accurately tell the Scottish Parliament who attended a series of crucial meetings to discuss a hugely significant cock-up involving the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court, and the former First Minister, Alex Salmond.  

The Scottish Government promised to be open and transparency with this inquiry, but so far the focus has been all about withholding written evidence, followed by obfuscation and delay. 

I've said before on the blog that the SNP are just as bad as other political parties when it comes to openness, transparency and freedom of information - they love to 'talk the talk', but when push comes to shove they really resent being held to account.

Alex Salmond inquiry: Civil servant ‘misled parliament over Salmond’

Leslie Evans said she was not aware of any meetings with legal counsel involving special advisers - PA:PRESS ASSOCIATION

By KIieran Andrews - The Times

Scotland’s most senior civil servant “misled” parliament by failing to disclose a meeting with Nicola Sturgeon’s closest aide about the court case that ruled a government investigation into Alex Salmond was unlawful.

A freedom of information (FoI) response shows that Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary, attended talks with Ms Sturgeon, legal counsel and Liz Lloyd, the first minister’s chief of staff.

Yesterday Ms Evans told a Holyrood inquiry into the botched handling of complaints against Mr Salmond that she was not aware of any role played by government special advisers in the legal process.

“I wouldn’t see any natural role,” she said. “I am not saying that there weren’t conversations with special advisers, I couldn’t possibly say that on oath, but I’m really not aware of it, no.”

James Wolffe, the lord advocate, the chief legal officer of the Scottish government, supported Ms Evans’s claim. He told the committee: “I certainly don’t recall any special advisers involved to which I can speak.”

But an FoI document issued by the Scottish government shows Ms Evans, Ms Sturgeon and Ms Lloyd discussed the case with counsel on November 13, 2018. Ms Lloyd attended two other meetings with the government’s counsel, according to the FoI, on October 25, 2018, and November 2, 2018.

The information about other attendees at those meetings is redacted.

Legal advice was required in the run-up to a judicial review sought by Mr Salmond into the government’s handling of harassment claims made against him. Two months later the former first minister won the case after the government conceded it acted unlawfully while investigating the allegations.

All witnesses giving evidence to the Holyrood inquiry committee do so under oath and Jackie Baillie, the Labour MSP, said it was “disappointing” that Ms Evans had failed to remember the meeting. “I’m sure that the permanent secretary didn’t mean to mislead the committee,” Ms Baillie said. “It just seems to be that she has a problem with recalling who was at meetings.”

Ms Evans, who spearheaded the botched government investigation, claimed that she was not “at war” with Mr Salmond. She had sent a text message after Mr Salmond won his case, which cost the taxpayer more than £500,000, saying: “We may have lost the battle but we will win the war.”

She insisted that the message was not “referring to any individual” but was instead about changing the culture of the civil service.

“I think that [message] has been misinterpreted as having some kind of conspiratorial element to it,” Ms Evans said. “That is not the case . . . I was talking about a long-term commitment of mine and indeed of the Scottish government to ensure that equality lies at the heart of what it does.”

It emerged in 2018 that the government had investigated complaints of sexual misconduct against Mr Salmond when he was first minister. Mr Salmond has always denied any wrongdoing and was cleared of all criminal charges in March after a trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

The Scottish government said: “As the permanent secretary said, she answered the committee to the best of her recollection. The permanent secretary offered to write to the committee to confirm details of some points asked during the session, including the role of special advisers in the judicial review.”


There is a pattern developing here (Magnus Linklater writes). The government insists it is giving the committee all the information it needs. The committee says it isn’t getting it. For close on three hours yesterday Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary, and James Wolffe, QC, the lord advocate, effectively stalled the inquiry. There is no other way of putting it.

There were two crucial questions to be addressed. First, who knew what and when about the flawed and unlawful inquiry into allegations of ministerial misconduct; second, who was responsible for going ahead with a legal defence of that inquiry in the court of session, which cost the taxpayer half a million pounds?

For a senior civil servant Ms Evans is surprisingly vague on areas where it matters — such as dates, who attended meetings, and what was discussed at them. She could not recall, for instance, whether the first minister had been informed about the decision to refer the matter to Police Scotland — a fairly seminal event, one might have thought. There was much she did not recall, or could not say “off the top of my head”, and many occasions when information that should have been provided was not immediately available.

That was as nothing to the lord advocate, who was giving nothing away. Repeatedly asked to explain on whose advice the government decided to challenge the judicial review sought by Alex Salmond, he took shelter behind a convention that such advice was confidential and protected by law. “I’m not going to say when or to what extent I became involved,” he said bluntly.

Murdo Fraser MSP put a key question. Why, if the government case was flawed, and eventually thrown out, was that flaw not spotted sooner?

Mr Wolffe responded that documents “came to light” later in the process which altered the issue. But those documents, it seems, had been available all along. Maybe someone simply failed to do their homework.

So there we stood. This committee is doing its best to get at the truth of this affair. At this rate, it is going to take some time to get there.

Glasgow - Leading the World vs Clear as Mud (14/01/19)

Glasgow City Council has a declared policy of becoming a world leader for 'openness and transparency' - a highly laudable aim, in my view. 

Yet when it comes to explaining the background to its 'white elephant' WPBR pay scheme, the City Council is secretive, defensive and, generally speaking, as clear as mud.

Because I think that a large part of local democracy lies in holding senior figures to account over how the really big decisions were made, particularly when these affect the lives of so many citizens and involve large sums of public money.

In Glasgow, at the moment, there is no bigger issue than the 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme and the way in which Scotland's largest council managed to get itself into such a terrible mess over equal pay.

Now this is the subject of a big, ongoing FOI battle with Glasgow City Council behind the scenes, but all will be revealed in the days ahead. 


Glasgow, FOI and the WPBR (15/11/18)

I wrote to all Party Group Leaders in Glasgow last week regarding the role played by senior officials in procuring, implementing, managing and defending the City Council's 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme for 12 long years:

Susan Aitken (SNP)
Frank McAveety (Scottish Labour)
David Meikle (Scottish Conservatives)
Martha Wardrop and Allan Young (Green Party Co-Chairs)

So far the only Party Leader to have responded is David Meikle, the Conservative Group leader.

Now some of these officials left office with public honours and awards for their 'service' to Scottish local government, others with 'golden goodbyes' and boosts to their already substantial final salary pensions.

Which means I think't its entirely fair and reasonable to ask a few awkward questions such as:
"How did such senior, highly paid and experienced local government officials in Glasgow managed to sign off on the WPBR's 37 hour 'rule' given that this provision was so obviously designed to discriminate against the Council's largely female workforce?"

A cross-party approach is needed to discover the truth about what really happened in Glasgow over the WPBR and this would be a big step forward, if you ask me. 


Dear Susan/Frank/David/Martha/Allan

Glasgow's WPBR Pay Scheme

enclose a recent post from my blog site regarding the role played by senior officials over the City Council's controversial WPBR pay scheme

I am pursuing this matter via further FOI requests to the City Council and this process may well end up with a referral to the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) although I think it would be so much better all round if the Council did the right thing, by putting the facts on the table itself.

My FOI requests to the Council have been rejected on the basis that providing this information would cost more than £600. The Council can waive this £600 exemption under Section 12 (1) of FOISA, the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

However, senior officials have chosen not to do so which I believe raises a serious conflict of interest, as well as being inconsistent with the Council's declared support for 'openness and transparency' in its decision-making processes.

The Council accepts that this WPBR information does actually exist and is kept in three filing cabinets, yet senior officials refuse to release the documents or disclose their contents.  

As a result, I am raising the issue directly with the Council's elected members by writing to the four Party Group leaders: Susan Aitken (SNP), Frank McAveety (Labour), David Meikle (Conservative), Martha Wardrop and Allan Young (Green Party Co-Convenors).  

As far as I know, none of the current Group leaders in the Council were in post at the time the WPBR was introduced back in 2006/07. Action 4 Equality Scotland challenged the basis of the WBPR soon after it was implemented and went on to lead the fight all the way to the Court of Session where, in August 2017, the scheme was unanimously judged to be 'unfit for purpose'.

I believe that the Council's elected members, the workforce and the wider public are entitled to know how Scotland's largest council got itself into such a terrible mess, not least because putting things right now is going to cost hundreds of millions of pounds. 

Among the many questions that require a proper answer, in my view, are:

1) Why was the Council's decision to draw up an 'in-house' Job Evaluation Scheme (JES) not put out to competitive tender?

2) Why did the Council not use the Scottish Joint Council JES which had been recommended for use by all Scottish local authorities, i.e. by COSLA and the trade unions? 

3) Specifically, why did Council opt for an 'in-house' JES when the Council had already paid its share of the £250,000 cost of developing the Scottish Joint Council JES? Ironically, of course, the Council recently agreed to replace the job evaluation element of the discredited WBPR with the original Scottish Joint Council JES?

4) What briefing and Terms of Reference were given to the external consultants (Hays Consulting Ltd) who designed the WPBR on the Council's behalf?

5) What was the total cost to the Council of developing the WPBR?

6) How did the Council sign off on the controversial elements of the WPBR such as the '37 hour rule' which was clearly designed to discriminate against the Council's largely female workforce?

7) Why was the WPBR not the subject of an independent Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) which would have highlighted the scheme's many and obvious flaws, potentially avoiding a ruinous legal battle all the way to Scotland's highest civil court, the Court of Session?

I should explain that part of the reason for Council officials refusing my FOI requests is that the information held on the WPBR has never been archived and catalogued properly, so officials are able to argue that finding specific information amounts to a costly search for 'needle in a haystack', thus allowing them to invoke the £600 exemption under Section 12 (1) of FOISA.

In my view this is a specious, if convenient, argument which prevents the Council's senior officials from being held properly to account over the way in which the WPBR was implemented and subsequently defended over 12 long years.

I should add that senior officials are not always so careful with public money. For example, in 2016 the current chief executive used her discretion to 'top up' the pension pot of the outgoing Director of Finance by an astonishing £120,079, in response to a request for voluntary early retirement. 

If only such generosity had been aimed at the Council's lowest paid, predominantly female workers many years ago, Glasgow may not have found itself in the mess the city is in today.

I look forward to hearing from you and if the political leaders of the Council respond positively to my suggestion, I will be happy to desist from making any further WPBR-related FOI requests and will also withdraw all outstanding FOI requests.

Kind regards  

Mark Irvine

Glasgow's Great Equal Pay Cover-Up (31/10/18)

Here's a letter I sent to Susan Aitken recently regarding the role played by senior council officials when Glasgow's WPBR pay scheme was introduced back in 2006/07.

The council's chief executive, Annemarie O'Donnell, has claimed previously that senior officials acted in 'good faith' over the WPBR and that their aim was to eliminate gender-based pay discrimination by the introduction of this controversial pay scheme.

Now I find this hard to very believe because, as I've said on the blog site many times, a 'two-year-old' could tell you that the WPBR's 37 hour rule was designed to favour male jobs and to disadvantage Glasgow's predominantly female workforce.

For the very simple reason that the vast majority of women workers in Glasgow City Council are contracted to work less than 37 hours a week.

After a series of freedom of information (FOI) requests it turns out that the 'history' of the WPBR is contained in a set of three filing cabinets, yet senior officials refuse to release the details on the grounds that to do so would cost the Council more than £600. 

If you ask me, the real reason my FOI requests are being refused is that the contents of these filing cabinet cabinets will show that senior officials betrayed the interests of the Council's lowest paid workers. 

I would like an answer to a whole series of important questions including:

  • What were the Terms of Reference for the WPBR?
  • How was the WPBR commissioned and was the brief put out to commercial tender?
  • Why did the Council not use the Scottish Joint Council scheme recommended by COSLA and the Trade Unions?
  • What was the total cost of the WPBR?
  • Who 'signed off' on the key provisions of the WPBR? 

My FOI battle with the City Council is still taking place behind the scenes and I have already raised some of these issues with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC).

But I think the time has come to involve a wider audience in this fight - the Claimants, Glasgow City Councillors, Glasgow MSPs, Glasgow MPs, Press and Media and the wider public.

Because the way in which Scotland's largest council has dealt with Equal Pay is a huge public scandal which is going to cost Glasgow hundreds of millions of pounds.

So there is no way that the people directly responsible should be allowed to brush this terrible mess under the carpet.    

Dear Councillor Aitken

Glasgow's WPBR and the role of senior council officials

I refer to my letter dated 11 July 2018.

I have not had any response to my letter, from yourself or someone from your office, which is disappointing, I have to say.

The important issue at stake is whether senior council officials acted in 'good faith' over the WPBR which, as you know, was introduced in 2007 but subsequently judged by the Court of Session to be 'unfit for purpose' in August 2017, after a lengthy legal battle.

In turn, the role played by senior officials has implications for the settlement discussions with the Council which have not resulted in serious negotiations to end this long-running dispute, despite 9 months of talks and 21 separate meetings with the claimants' representatives (A4ES, GMB and Unison).

In the circumstances, I plan to share this letter on my blog site along with an explanation of why professional oversight (or lack of it) of the WPBR is such an important issue for Glasgow's equal pay claimants. 

While responsibility for the WPBR rests ultimately with the Council's elected politicians, and with previous Council administrations, I think it is entirely fair to question why such a blatantly discriminatory provision as the 37 hour 'rule', for example, was not challenged by senior officials who claim that their sole aim in introducing the WPBR was to eliminate gender based pay discrimination.

To my mind, the only way to resolve this question is by reviewing the WPBR advice given by senior officials at the time and how this advice was presented to the political leadership of the Council back in 2006/07. 

I am happy to delay any public comment for another week in case you would like to discuss the situation and, unless otherwise agreed, I would regard such a discussion as 'private and confidential'.

Kind regards


-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Irvine <>
To: susan.aitken <>
Sent: Wed, Jul 11, 2018 11:39 am
Subject: Glasgow's WPBR and the role of senior council officials

11 July 2018

Dear Councillor Aitken

Glasgow's WPBR and the role of senior council officials

I have been trying for several months, via a series of FOI requests, to understand the role played by senior officials during the introduction of the Glasgow City Council's WPBR pay scheme.

While much of the work was undertaken by an external consultant, crucial aspects of the WPBR, for example the introduction of the scheme's controversial 37 hour 'rule', still had to be approved by the City Council on the advice of its senior officials.

The Council's chief executive has stated publicly that senior officials acted in 'good faith' at the time which I find had to accept because the 37 hour 'rule' was clearly designed to disadvantage the Council's largely female workforce.   

Instead of responding helpfully to my FOI requests the process in Glasgow has become something of a pantomime with senior officials arguing that the time and cost of providing me with this information falls foul of section 12 (1) of FOISA.

I enclose the latest response from the chief executive's department which claims that to index the contents of three filing cabinets (which contain the relevant WPBR data) would take 83 hours to complete - or 1.3 working days for each of the 9 filing cabinet drawers.

I have to say I find this kind if behaviour to be completely at odds with the City Council's official policy of becoming a world leader in respect of the openness and transparency of its decision-making.

I did not ask the Council to conduct a full-scale, archivist-led indexing exercise which ought to have been completed years ago, of course. Instead I asked the Council to describe the contents of the three filing cabinets for the purposes of responding to a perfectly simple FOI Request/Review Request.

So I have a proposal to make which is that as Council Leader you authorise me to have access to the 3 filing cabinets for the period of 1 (one) working day which would allow me sufficient time to assess the information held by the Council.

If I believe there is important WPBR information that should be brought into the public domain, I would submit an FOI request in the normal way which would allow the Council to consider any privacy or other issues arising from such a request.

Not only will this save the Council from doing the job itself, it will also save the Council a great deal of time and expense by avoiding a protracted FOI battle which I am confident of winning eventually, because this is clearly the sort of information that ought to be readily available to members of the public.

No matter how long it takes - the truth will out in the end, as they say.

I would also take this opportunity to point out that while the chief executive's department has repeatedly declined to answer my WPBR FOI requests on the grounds that providing this information would cost the Council more than £600 - the chief executive herself, Annemarie O'Donnell, recently decided to 'gift' £120,079 to the Council's outgoing director of finance, Lynn Brown, so that this fellow senior official could access her local government pension early.

The generosity shown towards a former senior official stands in stark contrast to the Council's treatment of its lowest paid staff over many years which is why I believe it is right and proper to shine a light on the actions of senior officials in relation to the WPBR.

I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond to me by email at:

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

Enclosure x 1 - letter from the Chief Executive's department which is undated for some reason, but was sent to me by email on 06 July 2018

Information and Data Protection Team
Chief Executive’s Department Glasgow City Council
City Chambers
George Square
Glasgow G2 1DU

Phone: Email :
0141 287 1055

Our Ref: FOI 6661259

Mr Mark Irvine 

Send by email to:
Dear Mr Irvine

Request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

We refer to the e-mail you sent on 5 June 2018 to Ms Carole Forrest requesting a review of FOI 6581088, in which you request at 4(a) that the following information be provided to you:
“Provide me with the details of what information is contained in the three filing cabinets – by describing the names titles of both individual and generic documents”

Glasgow City Council (“the Council”) is treating this request as a request for new information in terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (“the Act”).

The Council’s response is detailed below.

You have requested details of WPBR related files held by Corporate HR. These files are historic files over 10 years old and are not indexed. In order to provide the requested detail, Glasgow City Council would require to complete an indexing exercise.

In order to assist you with this request, a sample exercise has been undertaken using the criteria you have outlined (viz “the names titles of both individual and generic documents” contained within the 3 filing cabinets) to assess how long, and therefore at what expense, such an exercise would take.

The sample exercise involved extracting documents from a file, allocating an index number for future identification and retrieval, reviewing the document content to identify its subject, entering the subject details onto an index template document and refiling the individual documents.

You have requested information in respect of the implementation of WPBR. The files hold information in relation to the implementation of WPBR and other related subjects. It is not possible to identify the WPBR specific files without examination and therefore indexing of all the files.

The time and cost estimates below are based on a thirty minute sample exercise. An extrapolation of the sample time and also a visual inspection and assessment of files has been used to calculate the time and cost of the exercise.

The request covers files which are stored in approximately 3 metres of filing cabinet space. The files fully utilise this space and comprise of the following:
  • Documents stored in titled pockets/wallets within suspension files
  • Documents stored in untitled pockets/wallets within suspension files
  • Loose documents stored within suspension files
  • Documents in Lever arch files
  • Documents in poly-pockets

    The varying nature of the files means that some are more straightforward to index than others. For example lever arch files appear to have a greater density of related information filed together than the individual suspension files.

    During the thirty minute sample exercise approximately 1 cm of documents were fully indexed.
    Extrapolating the sample findings calculates that indexing of 3 metres of documents would take approximately 150 hours (30 minutes x 300 centimetres= 9000 minutes = 150 hours).
    However, as stated above, visual assessment of the files indicates that some files will take less time to index, perhaps as little as one third of the time. We would estimate that this would apply to approximately two thirds of the files. Therefore, completion of the indexing exercise would take approximately 83 hours at a cost of £1,245.

    This figure has been calculated in accordance with the Fees Regulations made under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act. This includes the costs which would be incurred in locating and retrieving the information, photocopying and staff time. The staff time charged reflects the true pay scale of the member(s) of staff who would be involved capped at a ceiling of £15/hour per member of staff.

    Based on the estimated cost of £1,245 to provide the information you have requested, compliance with your request would cost the Council more than the upper limit allowed by section 12(1) of the Act and the fees regulations made under the Act (this limit is currently £600). Accordingly we are unable to comply with your request.

    The Council has the option of complying with requests where the costs exceed £600. However, on this occasion we are unable to, due to the resources (both financial and human) which voluntary compliance with this request would divert away from our core business.

Yours sincerely

Information and Data Protection Team 
Chief Executive’s Department

Three Filing Cabinets Outside Annemarie's Office, Glasgow (28/10/18)

The connection between Glasgow City Council and 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' comes down to the contents of three mysterious filing cabinets located somewhere in or around Glasgow City Chambers.

The important thing is that these three filing cabinets contain all of the archived information about the Council's 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme which was introduced back in 2006/07.

I've been asking the Council for months (via a number of FOI Requests) to explain what is actually in the filing cabinets and to share information which I believe should be in the public domain such as:
  • What were the Terms of Reference for the WPBR?
  • How was the WPBR commissioned and was the brief put out to commercial tender?
  • Why did the Council not use the Scottish Joint Council scheme recommended by COSLA and the Trade Unions?
  • What was the total cost of the WPBR?
  • Who 'signed off' on the key provisions of the WPBR? 
So far, Glasgow has refused my FOI requests even though this information would show whether senior officials council officials acted in 'good faith', as the chief executive claims.

Or whether they went along with the blatantly discriminatory provisions of the WPBR including its notorious 37 hour rule which, I say, was designed to disadvantage the Council's female dominated jobs.

Tune in again tomorrow for more startling revelations.  


Glasgow and 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' (25/10/18)

Everyone knows that the filmmakers of the 'Fast and Furious' franchise are in town, but who can guess the connection between Glasgow City Council and 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' - a sometimes harrowing and hard to watch, but otherwise excellent, movie starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell? 



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