Scottish Government response to harassment reviews

Scottish Government response to the reports by Laura Dunlop QC, James Hamilton, Independent Adviser on the Scottish Ministerial Code, and the Scottish Parliament Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.

Culture and behaviours

The Committee noted the difference between informal resolution as part of workplace policies and senior staff addressing concerns outside of a policy in an informal way. The Committee called on the Scottish Government to reassure staff that matters of bullying and harassment will be dealt with properly, fairly and robustly.

The Scottish Government welcomes this recognition of the importance of informal resolution as a valid and equally important route in many situations. The updated procedure for handling formal complaints will recognise the routes in and the options for informal resolution in line with the principles set out currently in ‘Fairness at Work’.

The Committee noted that the culture and leadership of any organisation is as important as having robust policies and procedures in ensuring that people feel able to come forward, and stated that the Scottish Government must be clear about what behaviour is acceptable and not acceptable in the workplace and make sure people feel able to call out inappropriate behaviour, knowing that their complaints will be dealt with seriously and sensitively.

The Scottish Government agrees that culture and leadership are crucial. Prevention is key, and will be achieved by creating a positive culture, that values diversity and where staff have confidence in the process if raising concerns or complaints. We are making progress on this, as evidenced in the our most recent staff survey results[1], where we have achieved improvements on leading and managing change, our highest ever score on inclusion and fair treatment, and our lowest ever proportion of colleagues responding that they have been bullied or harassed at work.

Ministers and civil servants work together to deliver a programme for Government. The context is however different. Ministers are politicians and elected representatives, while civil servants are employees who serve the Government and Ministers of the day. Good relationships between Ministers and the civil service are at the heart of an effective Government. It is, therefore, vital that from the outset there is a shared understanding of the standards of behaviour expected of one another. A refreshed Ministerial induction programme covers the Scottish Ministerial Code, the Civil Service Code and the core values of the civil service and the Scottish Government. As part of this process, incoming Ministers have also received fresh guidance on the role of their Private Offices and expectations around working effectively together in a culture of mutual support and respect.

Part 6 of the Scottish Ministerial Code sets out the general principle in working with civil servants:

Ministers must uphold the political impartiality of the civil service, and not ask civil servants to act in any way which would conflict with the Civil Service Code and the requirements of the Constitutional Reform and Civil Governance Act 2010. Ministers should be professional in their working relationships with the civil service and treat all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect.[2]

The Civil Service Code sets out the core values of the civil service – honesty, integrity, objectivity, and impartiality – and the standards of behaviour expected of all civil servants. Our values within Scottish Government, alongside the shared civil service values, further guide how civil servants act. The Code of Conduct for Special Advisers working in the Scottish Government is clear that Special Advisers are bound by the standards set out in the Civil Service Code.

Combined, these codes form the foundation of working relationships between Ministers and civil servants, relationships which are on the whole professional and respectful of differing roles. We will continue to work to ensure a fair and respectful working environment for all and to create the conditions where bullying and harassment is prevented or tackled at the outset.   

This can only be done with an appreciation of how difficult it can be for an individual to come forward with a concern or complaint. Our work on organisational processes and culture, therefore, also seeks to ensure that anyone in that position feels sufficiently empowered, confident, informed and supported, knowing who they could approach at any stage. 

As part of this, it’s important that civil servants understand that the lessons from the scrutiny of the handling of the complaints from Ms A and Ms B have already been learned. Decisions on handling of a complaint, even before a revised procedure is in place, would apply the lessons from the judicial and other reviews.

An exercise was established to gather our internal lessons, looking at the broad range of initiatives that exist within the Scottish Government in actively promoting the positive values, culture and behaviours we want to see across Government and in our relationships with stakeholders. This rests on the values and principles which guide our ongoing activity:

  • The civil service values of honesty, integrity (personal, professional and organisational), objectivity and impartiality;
  • The values at the heart of the National Performance Framework:
  • treating all our people with kindness, dignity and compassion;
  • respecting the rule of law;
  • acting in an open and transparent way.
  • The five core values that underpin the Scottish Government’s new vision, ‘In the service of Scotland’: integrity, inclusion, collaboration, innovation and kindness;
  • Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of individuals in the organisation; and
  • Professionalism including good governance and strong risk management.

In our ongoing work we will continue to implement these lessons and in particular address:

  • The need to strengthen the commitment between Ministers and civil servants to prevent inappropriate behaviour, to address any concerns, ensuring that policies and procedures have the acceptance of all parties involved;
  • The manner in which local cultures can develop under pressure, outside the prevailing norms. A shared understanding of the signs that we need to look out for, the importance of early intervention and clear responsibilities for taking action, will help us to develop the skills of our leaders and work locally to provide extra support; and
  • The need to continually promote the importance of speaking up, and to provide effective systems and procedures for those who do speak up. That will help ensure concerns are handled promptly and with compassion, and that informal and formal processes are fair – and seen to be fair – to all parties.

Culture and behaviours – Scottish Government actions

We will:

  • Use the lessons from the three reports as well as internal reflection to strengthen our ongoing and ambitious work to improve a culture of openness and inclusion;
  • Continue to implement the refreshed Ministerial induction programme which covers the Scottish Ministerial Code, the Civil Service Code and the core values of the civil service and the Scottish Government;
  • Embed the new Scottish Government vision, ‘In the service of Scotland’ and its five core values: integrity, inclusion, collaboration, innovation and kindness; and
  • Continue our work create an ever more diverse and inclusive Scottish Government and to prevent and tackle bullying and harassment.





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