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Daily forces U-turn over bid to keep ministers’ wrongdoing secret

Conor Matchett 2022A daily newspaper has forced a U-turn on an attempt to keep details about misconduct at the heart of government secret.

Scotland’s First Minister has confirmed outcomes of ministerial misconduct probes will be made public if they are partially or fully upheld by the Scottish Government after coverage of the issue by The Scotsman.

The Edinburgh-based daily was told in June that it was not in the public interest for the outcome of any misconduct complaint made against previous and current ministers to be released, meaning the outcomes of any investigation, including potential bullying or harassment complaints, would have been kept secret.

At the time, the decision was justified on data protection grounds and the suggestion that publishing the outcomes of complaints would lead to civil servants being less likely to come forward when there are issues. But it has since forced a backlash from opposition parties in Holyrood, prompting Ms Sturgeon to now reverse the decision.

Where a formal complaint is upheld either in full or partially, ministers will be named and the outcome published alongside a redacted version of the decision report to protect the identity of the complainant.

The name of ministers who faced complaints which were not upheld will also be published online for a period of six months, the Government said.

Scotsman deputy political editor Conor Matchett, pictured, told HTFP: “The Scotsman asked Scottish ministers for outcomes of misconduct probes against them, and shockingly the government claimed it was not in the public interest for any outcomes of these investigations, past, present or future, to be made public.

“This followed news one former minister was subject to misconduct complaints, with the government citing data protection rules for not telling the public.

“It was baffling how ministers could be protected in this way when it was their behaviour under the microscope, and our report led to political pressure which forced a u-turn days later in the Holyrood chamber when Nicola Sturgeon pledged to look at the rules again.

“Today’s announcement is the completion of that U-turn, one I am not convinced would have happened without our story forcing the issue and highlighting the lack of transparency.

“It is also an admission that the government’s approach to transparency did not take into account the public interest in these probes properly.

“This change is a key victory for transparency and will improve ministerial accountability in Scotland.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “The First Minister advised the Scottish Parliament in June that the ministerial code and complaints procedure would be updated with regards to future complaints.

“The Scottish Government is determined to build a culture in which concerns are addressed early and in which all those who are involved with a complaint have confidence and can engage constructively and fairly in the process.”