- 7 Dec 2018
Date received: 31 October 2018
Date responded: 26 November 2018
Further to our email of 31 October 2018, I have now completed my review of our response to your request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) for:
- Copies of all communications between Colin McAllister and Education Scotland staff regarding Freedom of Information requests - from January 2017 to present.
In your review request, you asked:
- for a clear and detailed account of the reasons for the delay in providing a response to your request;
- if all of the relevant information had been identified and included in our response to your request; and
Firstly, may I express my apologies for the long delay in responding to your Freedom of Information request.
I have now completed my review of our response to your request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA). I have concluded that the original decision should be confirmed with a modification.
Reason for breach of FOI response time
I have examined the reasons for the delay in responding to your requests. It may be helpful here to set some background context.
You initially submitted an earlier related request (FOI/18/01943) for all communications between Colin McAllister and Education Scotland staff regarding FOI requests - from 1 January 2016 to 18 July 2017. After receiving a response under section 12 of FOISA which advised you that we considered responding to this request would breach the upper cost limit of £600, you subsequently split this request into two separate requests which sought to obtain the same information over the time periods January 2016 to December 2016, and January 2017 to 10 August 2018 (this request).
Although we accepted these requests, given they were submitted simultaneously the burden of work imposed on Education Scotland remained significant. Your two requests collectively returned a very high number of documents which we were required to work through to identify the specific information in scope, to remove duplicates and to redact exempt information. This task was very time consuming and as such contributed to the delay in providing a response to both this request and your request referenced FOI/18/02164.
In addition to the high volume of work to identify and collate the relevant correspondence for your request, a number of other issues introduced delay.
Unfortunately the process of seeking comments and advice from relevant senior officials, including Special Advisers and the Scottish Government FOI Unit contributed to the delay in finalising our response in this case because following this consultation further work was required to improve the quality of our response. This is because it was considered necessary to discuss the interpretation of the scope of your request, the appropriateness of the exemption(s) proposed and the format of the redactions proposed, prior to finalising your response. As a result of these discussions we determined that the scope of your request was not limited only to direct correspondence between Mr McAllister and Education Scotland but would also include any correspondence which was communicated on behalf of Mr McAllister (e.g. by another member of private office). We also concluded that some information initially considered to fall under an exemption could be released to you, and that the remaining redactions required were limited to a small amount of personal data.
Additionally, as noted in our initial response the method of redaction used when preparing our response was not in keeping with the Scottish Government’s recommended best practice to replace redacted text with [redacted] where possible, rather than using black lines to remove information. As such, Special Advisers requested that Education Scotland adopt Scottish Government best practice and replace redacted material with [redacted]. This was to make documents with redactions easier to follow, and to make redactions more robust to prevent breaches of data security. Education Scotland staff had to upgrade their IT software to adopt this standard and apply it to a large volume of material, which significantly contributed to the delay. This tool is now standard in Education Scotland.
I can confirm that an extensive search of our corporate records and relevant email accounts was carried out in response to your original request, and I am confident that we have identified all of the information held which would fall within the scope. All of the case files held by Education Scotland’s Formal Correspondence team (which manages and co-ordinates FOIs) were searched. To ensure that no emails held elsewhere were missed, all Strategic and Assistant Directors, Senior Education Officers and members of the Communications team were asked to search their personal email records for relevant correspondence for the whole period.
Withholding of relevant information
I note the comments you have made in your request for review in relation to the information redacted in Document 29. I have concluded that when redacting information from Document 29, due to human error a short section of text either side of the personal information was redacted by mistake. I apologise for this error, and that it wasn’t identified earlier. A revised Document 29 with the non‑personal information re-instated is enclosed.
I have now reviewed all of the withheld information for each of the documents identified within the scope of this request. I am satisfied that the redaction process was applied correctly in all other instances, and we were entitled to withhold the redacted information under section 38(1)(b) (personal information) for the reasons given in our initial response. The redactions have been limited to junior officials who we consider would have a greater expectation of privacy than more senior staff.
The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses
Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House