Poverty commission resignations due to ‘unprecedented communication breakdown’

Three commissioners resigned after claiming that chair Bill Scott re-nominated them for appointment without their knowledge.

The commissioners and chair have since been replaced
Holyrood The commissioners and chair have since been replaced (Jane Barlow/PA)

The resignation of three of the Scottish Government’s poverty commissioners and the group’s chair was a result of “an unprecedented breakdown in communications”, a review has found.

In September, Linda Bamford, Shona Stephen and deputy chair Lindsay Graham resigned from the Poverty and Inequality Commission using matching letters.

The commissioners said they had been re-nominated for appointment by chair Bill Scott without their knowledge, resulting in a “loss of confidence and trust” in him.

Within days, Mr Scott would also step down from his role, citing health reasons.

A review, commissioned by the Scottish Government and published by the Social Justice and Social Security Committee this week, found the relationship breakdown resulted in “distress, distrust and assumptions being made”, but refused to point the finger at anyone and finding there were no “prior significant or ongoing issues”.

“Despite the strong working relationship between the chair, the commissioners, the secretariat and the sponsor team, it is clear that an unprecedented breakdown in communication led to distress, distrust and assumptions being made,” the report said.

“When that breakdown in communication was between the chair and the commissioners it was not clear who was best placed to mediate.”

Bill Scott was the chair of the commission but stood down for health reasons
Bill Scott Bill Scott was the chair of the commission but stood down for health reasons (Poverty and Inequality Commission/PA)

The review instructed the Scottish Government to come up with a process where concerns can be raised and dealt with alongside mediation processes.

The conclusions of the report said: “My overarching view is that while the eventual resignation of the chair and three of the commissioners could have been avoided, it was not due to a single significant issue or event.

“Nor was it due to a failure of duty by any single person or team.

“It was an unfortunate convergence of a series of events that was exacerbated by a breakdown in communication, the inability to persuade participation in mediation, ambiguity around the re-appointment processes in terms of roles and remit, the lack of a route by which concerns could be raised early and in

confidence, and the very difficult and challenging personal circumstances the chair was experiencing.”

The review, undertaken by John Somers, the deputy director of the police division in the Scottish Government, stressed that the commission events and the resignations “must not be judged by this difficult and very unfortunate set of circumstances”.

All commissioners and the chair of the commission have since been replaced.

Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “I welcome the conclusions of the report. It should be noted that while the resignations from the commission could have been avoided, they were not as a result of any one factor, but an unfortunate convergence of events, combined with a breakdown in communication.

“The Scottish Government and the commission accept all of the recommendations and all are being progressed.

“I would like to echo the view of the review that the legacy of the commission to this point should not be judged on the basis of this episode, but on its significant achievements in helping make Scotland a fairer nation, which provide a strong platform for the next chair and set of commissioners to build upon.”