SECRET SCOTLAND: SNP failing to respond to FOI within legal deadlines   

By Bill Heaney

The SNP are routinely failing to meet the legal deadline for responding to Freedom of Information requests, new research indicates.

Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives reveal that the “mean” turnaround time for FOIs submitted by journalists to the Scottish Government in the last 12 months was 23 days. The longest response time was a staggering 235 days.

Under the 2002 Freedom of Information Act, the standard – and legally binding – timescale to reply to an FOI is “within 20 working days.”

Labour controlled West Dunbartonshire Council, which is now sticking to the SNP imposed sanction on The Democrat that we are banned from speaking direct to council officials, including communications staff, has done nothing to lift the ban.

The Scottish Conservatives reckon the failure to comply with FOI response requirements is symptomatic of an SNP government hostile to scrutiny.

Scottish Conservative MSP Roz McCall said: “These wait times are unacceptable and unjustifiable.

“The SNP always talk a good game on transparency, but their actions tell a very different story. The purpose of FOI legislation is to enable journalists and members of the public to hold those in authority to account.

“But it’s clear from these statistics that these efforts are being thwarted by an SNP government wedded to a secrecy culture. 

“The most obvious example of their lack of transparency has been over the ferries fiasco, where documents have been lost, minutes of meetings haven’t been taken and ministers have had to have information dragged out of them by parliamentary committees.

“This also comes hot on the heels of the Scottish government’s refusal to disclose the contents of official messages sent by senior ministers using WhatsApp to conduct government business.

“And it’s not as if the SNP can point to a lack of resources for dragging their heels or rejecting FOI requests, because we know their spending on FOI response staff has increased.

“The sad and indefensible truth is that Nicola Sturgeon leads a government addicted to secrecy.” 

First Minister Sturgeon and Provost Douglas McAllister.

West Dunbartonshire’s Labour Provost Douglas McAllister told me: “I raised this issue with the Labour Group at West Dunbartonshire Council and I explained to them the content of your emails with me and your request to have the ban lifted.

” As you might imagine, most Elected Members were unaware of this and therefore we have asked for a full briefing note to be passed to us from the Chief Executive explaining the Officers’position on this matter to allow us to reconsider and, of course, I shall keep you updated.”

FOOTNOTE: An example of how stupid this instruction to The Democrat to put our questions through the FOI system is that recently there was a picture, sent to us by the Council, of the Provost’s Awards ceremony. We asked who the persons in the pictures receiving the awards were, but received no reply for the umpteenth time. Does the Council really expect us to ask for the information for a picture caption through FOI, which could take weeks if not months to process? And cost a load of public money.

3 comments

  1. Freedom of Information legislation is a joke.

    It is disregarded not just in terms of response times but also in terms of response content.

    Lying and dissembling are all part of the culture and no more so than here in our very own backyard.

    And if found out, it dismissed as being a system issue where the information was not available or some other anodyne excuse.

    All part of the secrecy and corruption that pervades all levels of Scottish governance.

  2. I think it’s sad that people, an awful lot of people, have decided to live with the truth according not just to Sturgeon but to so many other politicians. The fact that they are prepared to stump up council tax for the services provided is quite astonishing. If you always do what you always did then you will always get what you always got. Some fresh thinking would be much appreciated by the electorate in West Dunbartonshire.

  3. Absolutely right Editor. Transparency and openness are the disinfectant that clears inefficiency and corruption.

    And that is one reason why the Council will not engage with you.

    Moreover, I take the view that aside of petty party politicking the elected councillors do not have the abilities to challenge council officers about issues. Indeed, some are spectacularly unable to understand the environment in which they operate.

    Of course the officers like it that way. They have an army of folks to feed all kinds of stuff to the hapless councillors. Moreover, if the councillors do have any operational concerns the officers are not long in railing that operations are their concerns and that only policy is the councillors concerns.

    It’s a recipe for the disaster that public service is

    However, if we can introduce transparency and openness and have mechanisms where concerns can be promptly and efficiently investigated by an impartial technically competent authority, then things could be very much improved. Public service is big business, it pays a lot of salaries, awards a lot of procurement contracts, and as such.- quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    Moreover, if the council will not engage, then maybe The Democrat or the Community Councils or even the elected councillors themselves should consider the judicious use of FOI requests.

Leave a Reply