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19 Sept 2004


Never again, minister

MURDO MACLEOD IF YOU believe the cynics, reared on a diet of Yes Minister, the ‘real’ Scottish government does not meet on Wednesday mornings at Bute House under the leadership of First Minister Jack McConnell. It meets 24 hours later, at the other end of Edinburgh city centre, on the upper floors of the majestic St Andrew’s House.

....the mood among the group was flat last Thursday, a day after Lord Fraser revealed his findings into the bungled handling of the £431m new Scottish parliament. The Tory peer had found no single villain of the piece - but his report spread most of the blame around Scotland’s Sir Humphreys, to the extent that one newspaper headline declared: "A big civil servant did it and ran away."

Lord Fraser’s conclusions were widely anticipated and prompted an unprecedented public apology on behalf of the civil service by John Elvidge, who was appointed to its head after the Holyrood project scandal unfolded. But behind the scenes, many of the mandarins believe Fraser took the easy option in blaming the nameless, faceless bureaucrats whom everyone loves to hate. ..

...... Fraser singled out Sir Muir Russell, Elvidge’s predecessor, Barbara Doig, the Holyrood project sponsor, and Paul Grice, the parliament’s chief executive. Russell left the civil service to become Glasgow University principal but Doig still works at the Scottish Executive and Grice has just had his contract renewed at Holyrood.

Elvidge yesterday announced an independent investigation into what went wrong, but the chances of disciplinary action being taken against any individual civil servant remains remote. The investigation will be carried out behind closed doors and the last such inquiry was into the handling of the foot and mouth disease outbreak - a probe which resulted in promises that lessons had been learnt but no blood on the well-maintained carpets at St Andrews House or Whitehall.