Scottish Government overhauls harassment complaints process after Alex Salmond investigation

By Paul Hutcheon

Nicola Sturgeon’s Government has unveiled a revamped system for handling harassment complaints after an unlawful probe into former First Minister Alex Salmond.

Independent investigators will handle complaints by civil servants against ministers or those who have left office, with the Holyrood responsible for acting on the final decision.

The new approach follows the Scottish Government ’s court defeat at the hands of the former SNP leader.

Officials investigated complaints of sexual misconduct against Salmond, but the Government later conceded the probe had been unlawful and tainted by apparent bias.

The debacle cost the public purse over £500,000 and a review into the entire system was carried out.

Stage one in the new five step procedure involves the Government carrying out initial checks after a complaint has been set out in writing.

Stage two is where a complaint is investigated and the Government assigns an “external” decision maker and investigator to the case.

The third part of the process is where the “decision maker” ensures a reasonable investigation has been carried out, notifies relevant parties of the report and shares copies.

The Government will then be responsible for ensuring that any recommendations are “considered and implemented” as appropriate.

Stage five allows either the complainer or the subject of the complaint a right of appeal.

The new system will be reviewed further by the trade unions, staff and Parliament before it comes into operation in February.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “The Scottish Government has learned valuable lessons and is putting the interests of those making complaints at the heart of plans to improve the handling of future issues.

“The updated procedure is part of the organisation’s commitment to embedding a culture where bullying and harassment is not tolerated and where there is trust in how matters will be handled if things go wrong. “Where a complaint is necessary it is crucial those involved have confidence and can engage constructively and fairly in the process.

“We are determined to make this procedure as robust as possible for those raising a formal complaint, which is why we will invite our independent advisers to offer advice on any necessary adjustments to the Scottish ministerial code in the context of this update to ensure ministers engage fully with it.”

Allan Sampson, national officer of the FDA trade union, said:

“The FDA has been clear that a complete overhaul of the complaints procedure, combined with assurances that those handling complaints are completely independent of government and its ministers, was necessary for confidence to begin to be restored in the process.

“After working in partnership with SG officials to develop the procedure over the last six months, the FDA welcomes confirmation of progress with the independent appointments and the detailed procedure. We will be fully involved in this consultation period, along with our members.

“Our priority was to ensure this was done properly rather than rushing out a response – we have continued to check in with our members with lived experience as the procedure was developed.

“FDA members have our assurance that we will continue to support and protect them from unacceptable behaviour by ministers - whether bullying, harassment or victimisation - following complaints being raised.”

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