Leslie Evans has said she is “willing” to address claims female civil servants were advised against working alone with Alex Salmond when he was first minister.
The Permanent Secretary has said she will write to MSPs “to address this issue” after she declined to answer questions on it last week.
Ms Evans, Scotland’s leading civil servant, declined to comment when she was asked about the claim when she appeared in front of the Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment claims made against Mr Salmond.
Her refusal to answer the question posed by Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser led to an outcry from opposition MSPs.
At the time the permanent secretary’s stance was backed up by committee convener Linda Fabiani of the SNP. Ms Fabiani claimed Mr Fraser’s line of questioning was inappropriate given the remit of the committee.
After her appearance at Holyrood the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross reported Ms Evans to the UK’s top civil servant, Sir Mark Sedwill, to ask if she had broken the Civil Service Code by refusing to answer.
Asked a similar question at First Minister’s Questions last week, Nicola Sturgeon said she wasn’t aware of female civil servants being advised to avoid being alone with Mr Salmond.
I would like to make clear that – contrary to some media reports – I am very willing to write to the Committee to address this issue.”
Leslie Evans, Permanent Secretary
In a letter to MSPs on the committee, Ms Evans wrote: “I thought it would also be useful to take this opportunity, in the light of extensive media coverage, to offer a comment in relation to my response to Mr Fraser’s question on whether “female civil servants were advised not to be alone in the company of the former First Minister” and your decision to disallow that question. I fully appreciate you will have had reasons, based on the Committee’s remit and the various legal restrictions in place, for disallowing that line of questioning. However, I would like to make clear that – contrary to some media reports – I am very willing to write to the Committee to address this issue.”
Despite her change of position, Mr Fraser said Ms Evans should reappear before the inquiry to face scrutiny on the issue.
Given her attempt to dodge the question at the first time of asking, it is only right that she now appears before the inquiry again, as soon as possible, to face the scrutiny she avoided the first time.”
Murdo Fraser, Tory MSP
Mr Fraser said: “Leslie Evans has certainly changed her tune since she refused to answer my question last week.
“It appears that pressure from the Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish public have convinced the SNP Government that they need to be far more honest and upfront about what they knew and when.
“But we don’t need Leslie Evans to merely write to the committee. Given her attempt to dodge the question at the first time of asking, it is only right that she now appears before the inquiry again, as soon as possible, to face the scrutiny she avoided the first time.”
Mr Fraser added: “There can be no hiding place behind a letter for Ms Evans on a matter as serious as when she knew about claims that female civil servants were not allowed to be alone with Alex Salmond.”
The committee met in the wake of Mr Salmond’s successful civil action against the Scottish Government, which found its internal investigation into the claims made against him were unlawful and tainted with apparent bias. The Scottish Government ended up paying more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ cash to meet Mr Salmond’s legal costs.