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by Louise Wilson
23 May 2022
Nearly a quarter of ministerial correspondence unanswered after 20-day deadline

Nearly a quarter of ministerial correspondence unanswered after 20-day deadline

Almost a quarter of ministerial correspondence 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 per cent of replies met the deadline.

In addition, just 83 per cent of parliamentary questions - those submitted by MSPs to ministers - received a reply on time in 2021. That figure improved to 90 per cent 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 added: “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.”

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.

It follows a number of questions being raised after a key part of the audit trail over the delayed and over-budget ferries was 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.”

Note: An earlier version of this story conflated ministerial correspondence, FOIs and PQ responses. This has now been corrected. 

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