THE SCOTTISH Government has delayed publishing documents on its progress implementing a new harassment complaints handling procedure following the Alex Salmond saga.
The decision has been branded “pathetic” and an “unacceptable failure” by the Conservatives.
Ministers had promised to update Holyrood’s Finance and Public Administration Committee before Christmas on the progress made in rolling out the new system to deal with harassment complaints.
But Deputy First Minister John Swinney has told MSPs that it will need to be delayed until the New Year, with the deadline to be missed due to the increased focus on the pandemic due to the Omicron surge.
The need for a new procedure was identified by a review into the mishandling of harassment complaints against the former first minister.
Mr Salmond was awarded more than £500,000 after the Court of Session ruled the Scottish Government’s handling of those complaints was “tainted by apparent bias”.
The former first minister was acquitted of all criminal charges following a trial while Nicola Sturgeon was cleared of breaching the ministerial code of conduct in relation to her role in the handling of complaints.
Under the new process, independent investigators and adjudicators would be appointed to deal with civil service complaints about ministers and former ministers.
In a letter to MSPs, Mr Swinney acknowledged a pledge that “documents would be available to the committee before recess” which begins on Friday.
He added: “I would be very grateful if the committee would give an extension of time until after recess, as the Omicron variant is absorbing the time and priorities of ministers and officials who recognise the importance of this procedure and wish to make it as fair and robust as it can be before presentation to Parliament.
“My apologies that the documents will follow in the New Year rather than before recess.”
The Deputy First Minister is due to appear at the committee in January.
Scottish Conservative MSP, Murdo Fraser, said: “This is another unacceptable failure from the SNP Government, who, at every turn, have let down the women who bravely came forward to make serious allegations against a senior figure.
“The Government have had months to draw up a new, robust complaints procedure to safeguard potentially vulnerable staff – and yet they are now kicking the can further down the road.”
He added: “To blame the Omicron variant – which was unheard of a month ago – for failing to meet this deadline is pathetic.
“The Salmond case highlighted the woeful inadequacy of the existing system for dealing with complaints and it’s shameful that no one has been held accountable for this, as we continue to wait for the new measures the Scottish Government promised.”