An economic development agency, drinks companies and senior government officials have all helped Scotland’s pollution watchdog select its senior staff.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has named eight external advisers who have joined interview panels for top jobs. Two – senior Scottish Government official George Burgess and the whisky industry’s Morag Garden – have each been involved in recruiting for two posts.
The Ferret reported on 24 January that Sepa had been accused of being “in bed” with the multinational drinks industry after it was revealed that the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) had been invited to join an interview panel for a senior pollution regulator. Polluters should not help choose the people who control their pollution, critics said.
Sepa has now released a list of all external members of interview panels in 2016 and so far in 2017. It discloses that Garden, the SWA’s head of sustainability and innovation, helped select a unit manager, as well as the head of a unit overseeing pollution permits for companies.
Burgess, a deputy director of the Scottish Government, helped hire Sepa’s government relations manager and a chief performance officer. Also on the panel for the performance officer was Jo O’Hara, the chief executive of Forestry Commission Scotland.
Ross Martin, chief executive of the pro-economic growth group, Scottish Council for Development and Industry, helped hire a Sepa head of sector. Others involved in recruiting Sepa staff were: June Ross, the principal waste management officer with Highland Council; Elaine Lorimer, the chief executive of Revenue Scotland; Joan Aitken, the Traffic Commissioner for Scotland; and Dr Andrew Kerr, executive director of Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation.
Janet Moxley, a former senior scientist at Sepa, warned that allowing industry to help hire staff could damage Sepa’s independence. “I have no problem with representatives of other relevant public bodies such as the Traffic Commissioner or the Forestry Commission being on interview panels if the post is relevant to their activities and expertise,” she said.
“Having representatives of industry lobby groups such as the Scotch Whisky Association or the Scottish Council for Development and Industry is a different matter altogether and is a serious risk to Sepa’s independence and impartiality. Sepa’s independence must be above question, and allowing organisations such as these to influence recruitment taints public perceptions at the very least.”
Sepa’s chief executive, Terry A’hearn, has defended the introduction of outsiders. “In order to ensure the best possible input to decision-making, I have recommended that Sepa uses external people in recruitment processes from time to time,” he said.
Read an earlier story about Sepa’s recruitment policy on The Ferret here.