Scottish Government opens up on officials’ business interests

Civil servants with second jobs or company directorships includes member of digital directorate

Credit: Michael Mandiberg/CC BY-SA 2.0 

The Scottish Government has published spreadsheets detailing the second jobs and outside interests of 99 officials, and has supplied enough information about senior civil servants on the list for them to be identified.

This week’s move followed a transparency campaign run by a national newspaper that originally sought full disclosure on the outside interests of hundreds of Scottish Government officials. 

Earlier this year, the Greensill scandal revelations that confirmed former UK government chief commercial officer Bill Crothers had simultaneously been a civil servant and a paid staff member at Greensill Capital for several months prompted a frantic Whitehall audit of officials’ second jobs.

UK government cabinet secretary Simon Case said in April that fewer than 100 UK government civil servants had second jobs, based on the data provided by permanent secretaries at the time. However, no formal publication of the information gleaned has taken place.

Commentary supporting the Scottish Government’s just-published transparency data reveals that it initially pushed back against a request for data on civil servants’ second jobs that was lodged by The Scotsman in April. The paper complained that the initial data provided was “close to useless” because of the extent to which information was withheld. 

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After a review, the Scottish Government agreed to release more detailed information on the outside interests of senior civil servants on the list – allowing some top officials to be identified through their directorate or role and the name of a business, even though they are not themselves named.

One example is Revenue Scotland chief executive Elaine Lorimer, who is identified by her job description and the naming of Contour Leisure ltd, of which she is a director. The company’s website describes it as “experts in marine product placement”.

George Burgess is identifiable because of his role as a director at the Scottish Arbitration Centre. The FOI release describes him as being part of the international trade and investment directorate; Burgess’s LinkedIn page describes him as the Scottish Government’s head of food and drink.

The Scottish Government HR chief who led the led the flawed probe into allegations of sexual harassment made against former first minister Alex Salmond is also identifiable in the transparency disclosure. Judith MacKinnon is listed as a director of management consultancy MacKinnon Partners at Companies House and the firm is named in one of the spreadsheets released in response to the FOI with the description that the civil servant concerned works in the people directorate. 

The Scottish Government had to pay Salmond around £512,000 in costs after its handling of the investigation into complaints made against him was found to have been unlawful following a judicial review process.

Elsewhere in the FOI release on second jobs, John Campbell of the digital directorate is also clearly identifiable as he is the sole director of data-management services company Urban Tide ltd, named as the business of one civil servant.

Policy officer Alan Caldwell is identified as being a director of Scottish Championship football club Partick Thistle. The release spreadsheet describes him as being part of the communications, ministerial support and workplace directorate.

A third of the entries on the FOI response list involvement with agriculture-related businesses, in some cases specified as family farms. Other second jobs include pest-control work, delivering catalogues and providing care services.

In one of the dataset’s more unusual entries, a staff member at the Scottish Government’s justice directorate is described as having a 50% share of a bar in the Philippines. The bar’s name and its precise location were redacted.

‘Very little interest in being transparent’
MSP Stephen Kerr, who is chief whip of the Scottish Conservatives, said that while he understood privacy concerns related to the Scottish Government’s FOI disclosure, the information being withheld was “very basic”.

He told The Scotsman that the level of redactions suggested the current administration had “very little interest in being transparent”.

“It is all too typical of the SNP government wanting to hide from scrutiny, even though they’ve raised their own concerns over people holding second jobs,” he said.

The Scottish Government official dealing with the FOI release said they had determined that volunteering in charitable organisations did not fall within the scope of the information request, which sought information on civil servants who held “external roles with external firms”.

They added that as the FOI request had sought information on roles held within the last five years, entries on the spreadsheet did not necessarily indicate that a particular role was currently held by the civil servant in question.

Business information on individuals named by in this article relates to directorships currently listed as “live” on the Companies House website.

Sam Trendall

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