Scottish Government perm sec rapped for 'failure to engage' with MSPs

Convenor of Holyrood's Finance and Public Administration Committee criticises Leslie Evans's "discourtesy"
Leslie Evans is "effectively no longer a post-holder within the Scottish Government". Photo: PjrNews/Alamy Stock Photo

By Kirsteen Paterson

14 Mar 2022

Scottish Government permanent secretary Leslie Evans has refused to appear before Holyrood's Finance and Public Administration Committee five months after first being asked to attend to "reflect on her time in office".

After what has been termed "ongoing dialogue" following a formal invitation in January, her office has now said she will be on leave until her retirement on the last day of this month.

Convenor Kenneth Gibson said the panel is "extremely disappointed at the discourtesy shown" by her "failure to engage", something that has been taken as an effective refusal to appear.

In a letter to Gibson sent on 7 March, Evans's office stated that her leave had started on 31 December and was ongoing. It further stated that she was unable to "speak on behalf of or represent the views of Scottish ministers" and is "effectively no longer a post-holder within the Scottish Government".

In a response made public today, Gibson wrote that "at no point" had she been asked to speak for a minister, adding: "We have been absolutely clear at all times that our interest lay in your own reflections, not those of ministers, to support the committee in developing a clearer understanding of the workings of government in our new public administration role.

“Very few people have the opportunity to gain your level of experience in government, which we considered would have been beneficial in informing our future scrutiny.

"We are firmly of the view that it is in the public interest for the committee to hear from civil servants as part of our public administration remit. You remain in the employment of the Scottish Government and we do not accept that your period of leave exempts you from giving evidence to a parliamentary committee."

Evans was a key player in the investigations launched in the wake of the allegations levelled against former first minister Alex Salmond. In his letter, Gibson stated that "reassurances have repeatedly been given that the evidence session was not intended to revisit events previously considered by the committee on the Scottish Government's handling of harassment complaints".

However, the committee will not, he said, "waste any more of our time pursuing this matter".

It's understood that new permanent secretary, John-Paul Marks, will be invited to give evidence on his aims and vision for the Scottish Government at a future meeting.

Labour's Daniel Johnson MSP called the situation "the latest example of secrecy from a tired and out-of-touch government". He said: "The committee deserved to hear from the permanent secretary, but she has turned her back on the committee and on proper scrutiny as a result. 

"This sets a very dangerous precedent as civil servants are obliged to appear before our parliament's committees."

Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton commented: "Leslie Evans is picking up a huge salary and a vast pension, the bare minimum that we should expect of her is to spend an hour or two taking questions from parliamentarians about how government functions and how it can be approved.

"She has been at the heart of government for several years and there are undoubtedly lessons from this period that need to be learned.

"Attendance at these sessions should not be optional."

Kirsteen Paterson is a journalist for CSW sister title Holyrood, where this story first appeared

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