Scottish ministers failing to meet response deadline for correspondence

Written by Louise Wilson on 25 May 2022 in News

New permanent secretary claims he wants to improve service levels

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Almost a quarter of correspondence sent to Scottish Government ministers was not responded to within the allotted 20 working days in the last year.

Figures show that, between May 2021 and April 2022, only 77% of replies to parliamentary questions and freedom of information requests met the deadline. In addition, just 83% of parliamentary questions - those submitted by MSPs to ministers - received a reply on time in 2021. That figure improved to 90% in the first quarter of this year, however.

Under Holyrood’s standing orders, answers to parliamentary questions should “normally” be provided within ten days when parliament in sitting or 20 days when it is in recess.

In addition, nearly one in six freedom of information requests to the Scottish Government were not answered within the 20-day time limit last year.

Freedom of information requests must receive a reply within 20 working days according to the 2002 legislation.

Writing to the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee, the Scottish Government’s new permanent secretary, John-Paul Marks, acknowledged there was “room for improvement”.

He said: “I, along with my executive team, will continue to monitor quality and performance across correspondence, as well as PQs and FOIs to ensure that we have the processes, skills and culture in place to deliver a consistently high level of service.”

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The permanent secretary – who is the most senior civil servant in Scotland – also committed to improving the government’s record keeping and information management systems. His comments come in light of a number of questions being raised after a key part of the audit trail over delayed and over-budget ferry contracts were discovered in an old email chain between civil servants.

Marks said the late discovery of those documents was “unacceptable” and that he was working to ensure the system for recording ministerial decisions was “consistent and robust”.

He said: “Plans are in place to build a programme of continuous improvement to achieve the highest standards in information management, both in terms of practices and culture. I expect, and will demand of my teams, a rigorous approach to recording official advice and government decisions, underpinned by reliable search and retrieval technology to ensure accountability and transparency.”


About the author

Louise Wilson is a journalist at PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood, where this story first appeared. She tweets as @louisewilso.

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