Salmond could be bullying and intimidatory, claims former civil service boss

Sir Peter Housden
Sir Peter Housden - (Copyright PA Wire)
15:21pm, Tue 15 Sep 2020
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Alex Salmond could be a bully and intimidating, but no formal complaints were made against him during his final five years as first minister, Scotland’s former top civil servant has said.

Sir Peter Housden told a Holyrood inquiry that Mr Salmond’s premiership was “punctuated” by concerning behaviour.

But while Sir Peter was permanent secretary between 2010 and 2015, no formal complaints were raised and there was “no indication” of sexual harassment.

Giving evidence to the committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints about Mr Salmond, Sir Peter said there was a “gross imbalance of power” in the Government that may have put staff off coming forward with concerns.

Sir Peter told MSPs: “I knew the former first minister could display bullying and intimidatory behaviour.”

We had no known egregious acts or formal complaints or indications of sexual misconduct so, as far as we knew, we had no bodies buried

Asked if he witnessed Alex Salmond shouting at or bullying any staff members, Sir Peter said: “I was well aware – in the way I have described – that those behaviours took place.

“I had a number of conversations with people who had been on the receiving end of that and they indicated many conversations about what we could do to prevent their reoccurrence.”

Although he said the former first minister’s office “ran really well” much of the time, he added that it was “punctuated by these kind of behaviours that were a problem”.

But at the end of his time at the top of Scotland’s civil service, Sir Peter insisted there were “no bodies buried” in relation to serious bullying or sexual harassment concerns.

When issues were raised, Sir Peter said he dealt with them informally, usually by making the minister involved aware that he knew about the allegations.

Sir Peter Housden - (Copyright PA Wire)

Despite confirming he also spoke to “senior” ministers about concerns, the retired civil servant refused to disclose whether they were raised with the then-deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, in line with the Government’s policy.

Explaining why he dealt with concerns about ministerial behaviour informally, Sir Peter said there was an “asymmetry of accountability” for ministers.

“In those circumstances, where you have got a formal complaint and there is no known egregious acts, informal means were the only ones available,” he said.

On his method of informing ministers about complaints, Sir Peter continued: “I felt it was important to make sure that the administration knew what we were dealing with.

Former first minister Alex Salmond with his then deputy Nicola Sturgeon - (Copyright PA Archive)

“This was part of keeping these issues front and centre, because I think the civil service is entitled to expect ministers to be able to control their behaviour.

“And where that had gone beyond reasonable bounds, but had not triggered a complaint, it did not seem to me unreasonable that it should be a fact that was known about.”

Reflecting on how effective the informal measures were, he concluded: “My honest answer would be, in the short term, sometimes.”

Asked about whether he passed on details of any concerns to his successor, Leslie Evans, Sir Peter explained she was already part of the senior management team so would be aware of any relevant issues.

He said: “We had no known egregious acts or formal complaints or indications of sexual misconduct so, as far as we knew, we had no bodies buried.

“So there was nothing that was in my secret box that I must pass on to the new permanent secretary.”

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