Publication - FOI/EIR release

Changes to Flag Flying guidance: FOI review

Published: 12 Jun 2018

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Published:
12 Jun 2018
Changes to Flag Flying guidance: FOI review

FOI reference: FOI/18/01221
Date received: 30 May 2018
Date responded: 11 June 2018

Information requested

1. There are only minor changes on versions 1 through 22, why were there such significant changes on version 23?

(For background, there were 15 instances of the Saltire/Union Jack combination (UJ Superior) in version 22. There is only 1 Saltire/Union Jack instance in version 23).

2. On both versions 22 & 23 the key for SAH has 4 flags in the box; does this represent the 4 flagpoles at SAH?

3. Which position/team member on the organogram you supplied previously, took the decision to significantly alter the guidance between versions 22 & 23?

4. If the decision was from a position outside the department, which position was it?

5. Was there any internal department sign-off and if so from which position?

6. Was there any external ministerial (or other external) sign-off?

7. In a published FOI response to another party (below) the following statement was made in relation to the flying if the UJ - "This has not changed since 2010.

If correct this means that SAH did not fly the UJ in line with all versions of the guidance from 2010 through to version 22, which clearly shows the UJ was to be flown.

Was the original FOI response below therefore in error?

https://beta.gov.scot/publications/foi-18-00426/

Response

I have concluded that the original decision should be confirmed with modifications, for the following reasons.

Question 1

You asked:

"There are only minor changes on versions 1 through 22, why were there such significant changes on version 23?"

In responding to your request, we interpreted this a reference to versions 1 to 23 of the flag flying guidance that were provided to you in response to an earlier FOI request (reference FoI/18/00962). We responded as follows:

"At the start of this year in line with normal practice, the operational guidance was updated to ensure it better reflected the practice that has been in place since 2010."

In reviewing our response to this question, I have concluded that the Scottish Government does not have the information that you requested. This is because you are asking for an opinion about the significance of the changes between the different versions to which you refer, and the Scottish Government does not record information of that nature.

This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

In order to assist you, our original response explained the basis for the updates in version 23 of the flag flying guidance. However, it should have been made clearer that we did not hold the information that you requested and I apologise for this.

Question 2

You asked:

"On both versions 22 & 23 the key for SAH has 4 flags in the box, does this represent the 4 flagpoles at SAH?"

We responded "No".

You have indicated that you consider our response to this question to have been curt, and seek further clarification of the significance of the four flags.

In reviewing our response to this question, I have concluded that the Scottish Government does not have the information that you requested. Your query is about how the information provided to you in response to an earlier FOI request (reference FoI/18/00837) should be interpreted. The Scottish Government holds no further information about the interpretation of the document in question beyond the information that is to be found in the document itself.

This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

However, I consider that we could have provided further assistance in responding to this query rather than simply saying "no", and I have concluded that we should now do so.

We have interpreted your query as relating to entries A and B in the key contained in version 23 of the flag flying guidance. This is because these are the only boxes that contain four flags. Instead, they represent the configurations of flags to be flown in different circumstances. In general, a Saltire or two Saltires would be flown (the first line of the box). However, as Royal assent has been given to fly the Royal Banner either at St Andrew's House or at another Scottish Government building when the First Minister is present, the second line of the box represents those arrangements.

Questions 3 to 5

You have indicated that you consider that these answers contradict the answer to Question 1, and clarify that you are trying to establish the chain of command in order to establish responsibility. You go on to suggest that the response does not match the previously supplied organogram, and seek an organogram linking the Protocol and Honours Team to the Deputy Director in the Division to which that team belongs. In reviewing our response to these questions, I have concluded that the information provided to you was correct. In response to Question 3, the decision to update the guidance was taken by the Deputy Director of the Cabinet, Parliament and Governance Division. Question 4 accordingly falls away, as the decision was not taken outwith the department (which we have interpreted as "division") in question. As far as Question 5 is concerned, the decision was taken by the Deputy Director and so no separate internal sign-off was required.

Accordingly, I confirm the original decision in relation to these three questions.

In your request for review, you went on to seek an organogram linking the Protocol and Honours Team to the Deputy Director in the Division to which that team belongs. As we explained in our response to an earlier FOI request (reference FoI/18/00990), the Head of the Protocol and Honours Team reports to James Hynd, Deputy Director in the Cabinet, Parliament and Governance Division of the Scottish Government. That response was emailed to you on 24 April 2018 and we provided an organogram of the Protocol and Honours Team with it.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, under section 14(2) of FOISA a public authority is not required to comply with a request for information if it is identical or substantially similar to a request which it has already complied with, unless a reasonable amount of time has elapsed between the two requests. This request is substantially similar to your previous request which we complied with on 24 April 2018. The Scottish Information Commissioner's guidance on repeated requests at:

http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/Law/FOISA-EIRsGuidance/Section14/Section14Overview.asp says that in considering whether a reasonable period of time has elapsed between the previous request and the new request, there are two questions which will help the authority:

(i) has the information changed?

(ii) have the circumstances changed?

In this case, the information we hold is the same as at the time of your previous request. We have also considered the circumstances and have concluded that there has been no significant change. For these reasons, we consider that your request is repeated and we are not obliged to comply with it.

Question 6

You asked: "Was there any external ministerial (or other external) sign-off?"

We responded: "Scottish Ministers had no role in the updating of the guidance as there was no change in policy."

You have indicated that you consider this answer to be unsatisfactory, and suggest that it is obvious that there has been a change in policy over time, and in particular between versions 22 and 23.

In an attempt to set the previous response in context, we commented that the Scottish Ministers had no role in the updating of the guidance as there was no change in policy. That is an explanation of our internal decision-making processes. The dissatisfaction that you express appears to me to be directed at that decision-making process, rather than the decisions that we made in responding to your FOI request. I therefore do not consider that this is a valid review request.

However, in reviewing our response to this question, I have concluded that it addressed your request for information in part, because it gave you the information you sought about ministerial sign-off. However, it did not respond to the part of your request about other external sign-off. I apologise for this oversight.

As a consequence, I have concluded that a different response should be substituted to provide further information, as follows:

There was no Ministerial or other external sign-off in relation to this decision.

Question 7

We consider that this represents a fresh request for information and we will accordingly respond separately to it as outlined in her email.

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