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Scotland’s top civil servant vows to introduce ‘robust’ record-keeping systems

Improvements to record-keeping systems are being introduced at Holyrood (Jane Barlow/PA)
Improvements to record-keeping systems are being introduced at Holyrood (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scotland’s most senior civil servant has written to Holyrood’s Finance Committee over the Government’s obligations on record-keeping.

It comes after John-Paul Marks, who took up the role of Permanent Secretary at the start of this year, gave evidence on the failure to document a key decision over the awarding of a £97 million ferry contract before the committee on May 3.

In his letter, Mr Marks assured the committee he will ensure “robust systems and processes” are in place for the recording and managing of information.

“Recording ministerial decisions is a vital part of the role of civil servants,” he wrote.

Coronavirus – Tue Jan 25, 2022
Transport minister Jenny Gilruth (right) produced the missing document earlier this month (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

“I am clear that, although there is no overarching statutory duty to record all decisions in a particular way, such decisions should be documented effectively as part of the official record and be suitably accessible.”

It emerged last month that a key piece of documentation on the awarding of the ferry contract to Ferguson Marine, which could now cost as much as £250 million, could not be located.

The missing document saw criticism levelled at the Scottish Government over its record-keeping practices, after an investigation by civil servants failed to find the note in question.

Earlier this month, transport minister Jenny Gilruth told MSPs the document – an email response to Cmal approving the contract for the shipyard in Port Glasgow – had been located.

The Permanent Secretary said that although “foundations are in place” for delivering an effective system, there is still more to do, “not least in the context of the continued growth of digital information and data”.

Such steps taken include the development of an updated Information Management Strategy for the Scottish Government, which sets out best practice for handling information, as well as the introduction of new eDiscovery Solution technology which allows for more reliable searching.

Mr Marks said reviews have also been completed on all training, guidance and policies related to information management.

He added: “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.”

Improvements to the system will be monitored through the scrutiny of performance data, he said, which will be carried out at quarterly assurance reviews by the corporate board.

The issue of ministerial correspondence was also addressed in the letter, after 51,674 of 66,687 (77%) of items sent to ministers in the last 12 months were answered within the deadline of 20 working days.

He told the committee that while the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on the management of responses, “the performance data for ministerial correspondence clearly show room for improvement”, with a plan being set in place to aid performance.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said: “Recording ministerial decisions is a vital part of the role of civil servants.

“I’m glad that the Permanent Secretary has taken the time to set out his approach but really this is the bare minimum that the public should expect.”

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