Publication - FOI/EIR release

Rules/procedures applicable to Special Advisors for political matters/government business: FOI release

Published: 22 Jul 2019

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

Published:
22 Jul 2019
Rules/procedures applicable to Special Advisors for political matters/government business: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/19/01538
Date received: 25 Jun 2019
Date responded: 22 Jul 2019
Information requested

“1. Are the civil servants working to instructions from their superiors to take as long as possible to reply and to use ploys to provide little or no information?
2. Are the FOI requests referred to Ministers?
3. Do they have input as to how the civil servants respond?
4. Are Special Advisers subject to the same rules and procedures applicable to permanent civil servants in respect of recording/minuting of meetings?
5. Do they designate whether such meetings are political or government prior to the event?
6. Do they have to record details of government business?
7. Where the event/meeting is “political “are they obliged to record or report it?
8. Is there a published code of conduct or protocol for special advisers?”

Response

Question 1
No such instructions have been given to civil servants, therefore the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.
This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.
Information provided outwith FOISA
Although you asked whether certain instructions have been given to civil servants in relation to responding to FOI requests (and we have answered that question above), you may be interested to know that the Scottish Government publishes detailed FOI training and guidance materials for its staff on its website at the following address: https://foiguidance.sgworksite.org.uk/
When prompted, use the following guest log-in (password is case-sensitive):
Username: SCOTLAND\foi
Password: Scotland1
This guidance informs the way that civil servants respond to FOI requests. You may also be interested to know that the Permanent Secretary has set out her views on the approach to requests for information in her weekly blog for civil servants on a number of occasions. We have extracted the relevant passages from her blogs and enclose a copy at Annex A.

Questions 2 and 3
Under FOISA, requests for information can be made to the Scottish public authorities listed in the Act. The Scottish Ministers are one such authority and responses are issued on their behalf. Detailed guidance on responding to FOI requests is provided to the civil servants who prepare these responses. It addresses (among other things) the circumstances in which FOI requests are referred to Ministers for their consideration and input. You can access it at the following address (using the log-in details above): https://foiguidance.sgworksite.org.uk/Guidance/The%20clearance%20process.aspx
Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you. If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the website listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.
In relation to the specific FOI you reference (FOI/19/00185), it should be noted that this was not seen by ministers before it was responded to.

Questions 4, 6 and 8
The answer to questions 4 and 6 is that SpAds are temporary civil servants for the duration of their appointment and are subject to the Civil Service Code except for those aspects which relate to impartiality and objectivity. Paragraphs 8 to 10 of the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers and paragraphs 15b and c of the Model Contract for Special Advisers apply.
In relation to question 8, the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers and the Model contract for Special Advisers is available from https://www.gov.scot/publications/special-advisers-code-of-conduct-and-model-contract/. Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you. If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the website listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.
I enclose, at Annex B, a copy of our guidance for civil servants about keeping minutes, or any other records. There is no other specific guidance on keeping records of meetings.

Question 5
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested. The Scottish Government does not have this information because no such guidance or instructions have been given to Special Advisers.
This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

Question 7
In relation to question 7, the requirement to record Scottish Government meetings is set out in paragraph 4.22 of the Scottish Ministerial Code. The Code is available from https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-ministerial-code-2018-edition/. Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you. If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the website listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.
The Code also addresses the issue of the recording of non-government meetings and, at paragraph 4.23, states:
“If Ministers meet external organisations or individuals and find themselves discussing official business without an official present – for example at a party conference, social occasion or on holiday – any significant content (such as substantive issues relating to Government decisions or contracts) should be passed back to their Private Offices as soon as possible after the event, who should arrange for the basic facts of such meetings to be recorded in accordance with paragraph 4.22 above.”.

 

About FOI

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.

foi-19-01538 Annexes A & B

4 page PDF
249.9 kB

Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG