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Former top civil servant Leslie Evans ‘unable’ to speak to Holyrood committee

Former top civil servant Leslie Evans ‘unable’ to speak to Holyrood committee
Her successor as Permanent Secretary said Ms Evans was unable to give evidence to the Finance and Public Administration Committee.

The convener of a Holyrood committee has spoken of his disappointment at the “discourtesy” after it was revealed that Scotland’s former top civil servant would not give evidence to the panel.

Leslie Evans left her post as Permanent Secretary last year, but has been placed on leave until March 31 – when she will retire officially from the civil service.

On January 27, the Finance and Public Administration Committee asked Ms Evans to appear to “give evidence on your reflections and insights of your time as Permanent Secretary” – but it was not until March 7 when a response was received.

The reply came from the office of the current Permanent Secretary, John-Paul Marks.

We are extremely disappointed at the discourtesy shown to the Parliament by your failure to engage directly with the committee at any stage

Convener Kenneth Gibson

“As you will be aware, Ms Evans left the role of Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government on December 31 2021 and is now on a period of leave until she retires from the UK Civil Service on March 31 2022,” the reply said.

“On that basis, Ms Evans is effectively no longer a post-holder within the Scottish Government and is not able to speak on behalf of or represent the views of Scottish ministers.”

In a letter released on Thursday, convener Kenneth Gibson, expressed his anger.

“(We are) extremely disappointed at the discourtesy shown to the Parliament by your failure to engage directly with the committee at any stage regarding our invitation, despite our best efforts.

Ms Evans appeared before the Salmond inquiry on three separate occasions (Russell Cheyne/PA)
Ms Evans appeared before the Salmond inquiry on three separate occasions (Russell Cheyne/PA)

“When we finally received a response, it was not from you, but from the Office of the Permanent Secretary, stating that, as you are now on a period of leave, you are not able to speak on behalf, or represent the views, of Scottish Ministers. At no point have we asked you to do so.”

Ms Evans’ final years in the job were marred by her involvement in the Salmond inquiry, which investigated the botched handling of complaints against the former first minister by two members of Scottish Government staff.

But Mr Gibson said assurances had previously been given that the committee would not want to re-tread the inquiry – before which Ms Evans appeared three times.

He wrote: “We would also wish to repeat our assurances that the committee had no intention of revisiting the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints Committee’s investigation with you, though we are separately considering the wider lessons to be learned as part of our scrutiny of the Scottish Government’s new procedure for complaints brought against ministers and former ministers by civil servants, and the implementation plan of actions arising from that and other inquiries into the matter.”

Despite the clear anger over the issue, Mr Gibson said the committee would not “waste any more of our time pursuing the matter”.