- 24 Sep 2020
Date received: 24 Aug 2020
Date responded: 27 Aug 2020
- Can you advise what advice/instruction/guidance was provided by the Scottish Government to Scottish Local Authorities on their obligation to comply with the timescales in terms of responding to a request for information made in terms of the Freedom of Information Scotland Act during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Were Scottish Local Authorities given any instruction by means of memoranda / SI / letter or email that the timescales to comply with FOI (S) Act no longer applied during the COVID-19 pandemic?
In relation to the first part of your request, we have published guidance on the key measures, including the FOI provisions, contained within the two Coronavirus (Scotland) Acts, which was drawn to the attention of our stakeholders. The current version is available on the Scottish Government website at:
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, please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.
I attach a copy of the original version of this guidance (Coronavirus (Scotland) Act - Guidance to Scottish Government stakeholders.PDF), which accompanied the first Coronavirus Act.
We have also published a general summary of the changes on the FOI page of the Scottish Government website: https://www.gov.scot/publications/freedom-of-information-document-collection/.
I can confirm that the Scottish Information Commissioner, who is the independent public official responsible for promoting and enforcing the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, has also provided advice on the effects of both Coronavirus (Scotland) Acts to Scottish public authorities by email and through a dedicated page on his website: https://itspublicknowledge.info/home/News/Covid-19InfoHub.aspx.
I have also attached to this letter:
- ‘2020_04_06_Email_update_to SPAs.PDF’ - email from the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner to public authorities in relation to the first Coronavirus (Scotland) Act; and
- ‘Scottish Information Commissioner updates to public authorities on 2nd Coronavirus Act.PDF’ - 3 emails from the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner to public authorities in relation to the changes made by second Coronavirus (Scotland) Act.
You may also wish to contact the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner at:
https://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/ContactUs/ContactUs.aspx to determine whether any specific advice, beyond that listed above, was provided to Scottish local authorities.
In relation to the second part of your request, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.
While the first Coronavirus Act extended the deadline for replying to FOI requests and requests for review, it did not amend the duty on public authorities to continue to respond promptly to requests for information (as is stated explicitly at paragraph 27 of the guidance that accompanied that Act).
I can confirm that the Scottish Government did not provide instructions to any Scottish public authorities that timescales to comply with FOI requests no longer applied during the COVID-19 pandemic because that has never been the case. This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.
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 Andrews House