Retired civil servant did not discuss Alex Salmond's 'bullying behaviour' with Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland’s former top civil servant has insisted he did not discuss any “bullying and intimidatory” behaviour by Alex Salmond with Nicola Sturgeon.

Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond
Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond

Sir Peter Housden told Holyrood’s committee on the Scottish Government’s handling of sexual harassment allegations he was not aware of any harassment concerns regarding the former first minister.

Writing to the committee, Sir Peter explained he had not been aware nor raised concerns with Ms Sturgeon.

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He said: “I can confirm that I was not aware of any harassment concerns and so did not discuss any with Ms Sturgeon.

Sir Peter Housden has said he did not discuss Alex Salmond's 'bullying behaviour' with Nicola Sturgeon

“While your letter refers only to ‘harassment concerns’, for the avoidance of doubt, I did not discuss any ‘bullying and intimidatory’ behaviour by Mr Salmond with Ms Sturgeon either.”

His letter came after the committee wrote to him asking: “[W]hether you had raised harassment concerns that you were aware of in relation to the-then first minister Alex Salmond with the-then deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon.”

Sir Peter, who was permanent secretary under Mr Salmond and his successor, gave evidence in person last month.

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He admitted the former SNP leader could display “bullying and intimidatory” behaviour, but added he was unable to say whether he had spoken to Sturgeon due to to "confidentiality" rules.

Sir Peter explained he “had a word with another senior politician” about his concerns, although no formal complaints were raised during his time as permanent secretary between 2010 and 2015.

But repeatedly challenged as to whether he raised concerns with Ms Sturgeon – in line with Scottish Government procedures – Sir Peter said he had a “duty of confidentiality” and would not disclose any further details.

Committee chairwoman Linda Fabiani wrote to Sir Peter after the evidence session and called on him to answer the question regarding whether he has raised concerns with Ms Sturgeon.

Sir Peter had told the inquiry in written evidence about poor ministerial behaviour.

He said then: “Where there were individual ministers whose behaviour was a cause for concern, the expectation was that the Permanent Secretary would manage these situations without recourse to formal procedures.

“Confidentiality requirements preclude me from sharing the particulars of my experience, but I took actions on these lines in a number of settings.”

Pressed on what all “reasonable steps were taken" to ensure the culture in the civil service was appropriate for staff, Sir Peter had said: “These are endemic in situations where you've got a gross imbalance of power, in the Scottish case between the First Minister and a rank and file civil servant, and you’ve got an asymmetry of accountability.

"Where you haven't got a formal complaint or no known egregious act, informal ones were the only ones available, so I ensured that staffing issues were brought to the Cabinet quite regularly, particularly on the staff survey and what that said about morale.”

The committee’s inquiry is looking into the Scottish Government’s botched investigation of allegations against the former first minister that the Court of Session had ruled was “unlawful” because of apparent bias.

It resulted in Mr Salmond being awarded £512,000 of public money for his legal costs.

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