Semi-detached civil servant to escape sanction

7 Dec 00
Scotland's top public servant, Muir Russell, will not face sanctions despite a highly critical report from the audit committee, the Scottish Executive said this week.

08 December 2000

Russell, permanent secretary at the Scottish Executive, faced calls for his resignation over the escalating costs of the new Parliament building at Holyrood in Edinburgh. Original estimates set the cost in the region of £60m, but the figure is now closer to £195m.

However, a Scottish Executive spokesman said Russell would not be reprimanded or lose his job. 'We do not consider this a resignation issue,' he said.

Muir was in the firing line after an unusually personalised cross-party audit committee report accused him of being 'semi-detached' from the process. As the Accountable Officer at the Scottish Office, Russell should have been given information on the cost estimates of the building from the earliest stages, the committee said. Auditor general Bob Black said Russell 'could have done more to seek it out'.

Deputy convenor Nick Johnston said the seriousness of the concerns had been demonstrated by the fact that the auditor general had undertaken an examination of the project two years before it was due for completion.

The audit committee concluded that the Scottish Office created a misunderstanding in the public mind about the full costs of the project. 'It was unnecessary and wrong not to disclose the estimated full costs once they were available.'

During the evidence sessions earlier in the year, Russell was recalled to give evidence for a second time after MSPs on the audit committee found his original answers unsatisfactory.

A response from the Scottish Executive said the report dealt with procedural matters.


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