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
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
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)
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)
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.
I enclose a recent post from my blog site regarding the role played by senior officials over the City Council's controversial WPBR pay scheme
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:
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.
Dear Councillor Aitken
From: Mark Irvine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: susan.aitken <email@example.com>
Sent: Wed, Jul 11, 2018 11:39 am
Subject: Glasgow's WPBR and the role of senior council officials
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:
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.
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?