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by Louise Wilson
26 April 2022
John Swinney defends government record keeping

John Swinney defends government record keeping

The deputy first minister has defended the Scottish Government’s record keeping following concerns about a lack of transparency.

John Swinney insisted government officials were trained to ensure decision-making processes were recorded but added that the level of record keeping would “vary”.

The government has come under fire in recent weeks after an Audit Scotland report revealed it was unable to obtain documentation relating to the award of two ferry contracts to Ferguson Marine shipyard in 2015.

The two ferries are now expected to be delivered five years late and more than £150m over-budget.

Scotland’s auditor general last week told MSPs the failure to properly document the process was “inconsistent” with the guidance on the handling of public funds.

Asked about record keeping and information management more broadly at the Finance and Public Administration Committee on Tuesday morning, Swinney agreed it was important to maintain good records to ensure they can be made available when necessary.

He said: “There is work that is constantly undertaken to ensure that we have the appropriate level of record-keeping in place. That will vary across a range of interactions around individual cases.

“There must be the most assiduous recording of decision-making within government at different levels, whether that’s at official level or with the involvement of minister… We undertake work to ensure that officials are trained and experienced in the capturing of the processes of government.”

The committee was speaking to the deputy first minister to scrutinise the government’s continuous improvement programme, which related to transparency and openness, as well as the new procedure put in place to handle complaints against Scottish ministers.

The procedure was recently redrawn after the government was forced to pay former first minister Alex Salmond over £500,000 in legal fees after the court found it to be “unlawful”.

The committee had invited the former permanent secretary, Leslie Evans, to give evidence on the lessons learned given her role in the creation of the first procedure.

Evans refused to appear before the committee.

Addressing Swinney, Tory MSP Liz Smith said MSPs’ ability to scrutinise the new procedure had been “compromised”.

She said: “Our problem as a committee, given the non-appearance of the previous permanent secretary who was very much involved at the time when there were obviously serious issues, because we’ve not had some of that feedback, it’s much more difficult for us to scrutinise what the best way forward should be.”

Swinney disagreed, stating the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints had spoken to Evans on a number of occasions about the complaints procedure last year.

He added: “The permanent secretary would essentially be making a contribution on behalf of Scottish ministers… What is crucial is that in all of these cases, there is effective and open engagement with committees on those questions and, as I say, I’m here to set out the lessons that have been learned from the process and how they’ve influenced the new complaints process.”

The new permanent secretary, John-Paul Marks, is expected to appear before the committee shortly.

Read the most recent article written by Louise Wilson - What is Scotland's place in the world after Russia's invasion of Ukraine?

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