Honesty and openness: ‘not an edited official tale’

When Nicola Surgeon became First Minister of Scotland she said:

“I intend that we will be an open and accessible Government” (26 November 2014)

On the Front page of the Times of  the 7th July 2017 was a report by the Scottish Health Correspondent, Helen Puttick that outlined the considerable efforts, made behind closed doors, of senior civil servants working for the Scottish Government to “tone down” this Report by Audit Scotland.



Further pressure was made to influence the Audit Scotland Report:

In considering the findings of this FOI inquiry, the Editor of the Times said that “the public deserve to know the true story on NHS funding and not an edited official tale”

The Civil Service Code of Conduct for Scotland outlines these core values:

These core values are what the public should expect from its civil servants if they are to fulfil the intention of Scotland’s First Minister.

 


At the end of the corridor

 

Closed by the Scottish Parliament: a Sunshine Act

PE1493 closed

My petition was closed on the 8th March 2016, after the following consideration by the Public Petition’s Committee:

PPC 8 March 2016

I was naturally disappointed.

I was invited by the Scottish Parliament to give feedback. This is what I said:

Thinking about the process that your petition went through, 
how fairly do you think your petition was dealt with?

Firstly I am impressed with how well organised and structured the PPC is. There are many petitions (a growing number?) and without the Clerks I cannot imagine that the committee members and Convener would manage to cope.

Secondly I am impressed that the PPC meetings are all recorded and archived both by Parliamentary TV and full verbatim Minutes. This is most commendable

My petition PE1493 was not fairly managed. The reasons are as follows:

(1) Apart from the initial opportunity to present my petition and engage directly with the committee there were no further opportunities to directly engage with the committee

(2) This lack of direct engagement deprives the public of consideration of the further evidence and correspondence collected by the PPC. Not once were any of the responses to PE1493 discussed publically in any detail by the PPC.

(3) Following my initial presentation of PE1493, all PPC meetings considering my petition were very short indeed. Many of them under a minute and the most common outcome was “the PPC will write to the Scottish Government”

(4) A huge amount of responsibility falls the way of the Senior Clerk and the Clerk’s team. Given this, and that this is a Committee for the public, who have elected the MSPs on the committee, it would seem important for the committee to acknowledge this. It would be helpful to set out clearly the qualifications and responsibilities of the Clerk and the line-management system, and system of appeal for any petitioner or member of public. Otherwise the PPC risks being considered undemocratic.

(5) As Petitioner for PE1493, in being asked to provide evidence from Scotland, to substantiate the request to consider legislation for healthcare workers and academics to declare financial conflicts of interest, I found myself in an impossible position. For example one piece of evidence, with full supporting material (film and the RCPsych approved power-point presentations of the academics) was refused publication by the PPC. In fact the PPC members, to my knowledge, never saw the letter. The decision not to publish was made by the Clerk based on Parliamentary Guidelines. I fully respect the right of the Scottish Parliament to determine what it publishes. However I feel very strongly that without this evidence (repeatedly asked for by the PPC, Scottish Government, and the Cabinet Minister for Health) that PE1493 could not be properly and meaningfully considered.

(6) PE1493 was closed. This was the deliberation of that decision of the PPC of 8th March 2016:

“There is stunned silence.”

Closure of my petition for a Sunshine Act for Scotland was then “minded” for closure by one of the members repeating what had been recorded by the Clerk in the papers for the meeting, that being:

“PE1493 by Peter John Gordon on a Sunshine Act for Scotland. To close the petition, under Rule 15.7, on the basis that the Scottish Government has committed to review the need for updated guidance on what the petition calls for and is consulting on the issue to gather views on what format it should take.”

My petition specifically asked for legislation because of the complete failure of previous guidance to be followed.

 

What did you hope to achieve by submitting your petition?

For a Sunshine Act to be introduced. For Scotland to lead the way in the UK.

To reduce harm caused by bias introduced into science by financial vested interests.

To address over-medicalisation and harmful misdirection of finite resources.

 

How do you feel about the outcomes?

Proud that I was brave enough and had sufficient stamina to pursue this petition.

Grateful that this Petition has encouraged wider discussion.

Disappointed at the skewed “Public Consultation” which deliberately chose not to explain to the consultees that existing Scottish Government Guidance has failed across our nation for more than 13 years. The information provided to the Consultees was drawn up by the Scottish Government.

Disappointed that PE1493 was closed without further opportunity to consider the evidence gathered and that it was closed based on the misunderstanding that PE1493 “called for updated guidance”

In conclusion:

The Scottish Parliament could have done more to hold the Scottish Government to account.

“The shadowy mandarin class deserves greater scrutiny”

This was a recent post by Walter Humes for the Scottish Review. 

I read this as a personal view about the civil service in Scotland 
(and not just about the governance of the NHS) so I (presume) 
that I am safe to share Professor Hume's view without worrying 
about any potential consequences for me as an NHS employee 
working in Scotland

Wednesday 14th October
I wonder how many SR readers would recognise one or more of the following names: Leslie Evans; Paul Johnston; Alyson Stafford; Graeme Dickson; Paul Gray; Sarah Davidson; Ken Thomson. They all hold important positions which enable them to influence decisions about the future direction of Scottish society. Leslie Evans is the most senior civil servant in Scotland, with the title of permanent secretary. The others head different directorates within the Scottish Government (Learning and Justice; Finance; Enterprise, Environment and Innovation; Health and Social Care; Communities; Strategy and External Affairs). They are called directors-general, a title that manages to carry both bureaucratic and military associations. Brief biographies of each can be found on the Scottish Government website.

Notwithstanding all the talk about openness in public administration, civil servants continue to prefer to remain in the background. They play down the power that they exercise, colluding with politicians in maintaining the fiction that it is always the latter who determine policy, the former merely advising and supporting. One of the most important ways in which senior civil servants can shape events is through their capacity to influence public discourse. They draft minutes, reports, consultation documents and policy statements. The skilful use of language can serve as a form of intellectual control.

The shadowy work of the mandarin class deserves to be subject to greater scrutiny than it normally receives. I offer this as a topic which the recently formed group of investigative journalists in Scotland – called The Ferret – might wish to pursue. They see their role as ‘sniffing up the trouser leg of power’. Sounds good to me.

A Friend of Liberty: Professor Walter Humes

Professor Walter Humes, writing in Scottish Review, 21st September 2015:

“For some time I have been copied into email exchanges concerning how complaints against public bodies are dealt with. I have no personal stake in any of the specific sources of concern (which include patient care in the NHS and responses by Police Scotland, the Scottish Government and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to requests for formal investigations). I do, however, have a long-standing interest in issues of public accountability and am familiar with the various techniques used by bureaucratic organisations to avoid responsibility when things go wrong: these include silence, delay, evasion, buck-passing and attempts to discredit complainants.”

The Friends of Liberty from omphalos on Vimeo.

“Those who hold high office in public bodies are very adept at defending their own interests. They may claim to support openness and transparency but those principles are not always translated into practice. Bureaucratic Scotland often falls short of the democratic ideals which are said to underpin civic life”