Official action has been launched by a watchdog into the Scottish government‘s use of informal messaging. The Scottish Information Commissioner, who oversees freedom of information (FOI) laws, stated that the Covid-19 inquiry had raised “significant practice concerns” over how ministers used messaging services such as WhatsApp.
The inquiry heard that a number of Scottish government figures, including the then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, had deleted messages that referred to government business.
The Scottish government said it had not yet received the notice from the commissioner, but would co-operate as required.David Hamilton, the Scottish information commissioner, stated that failing to retain a full record of the decision-making process had “subverted the principles” of freedom of information legislation.
He added that the public’s right to request information had been frustrated, and would officially launch an “intervention” to make practice recommendations.
Speaking to BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show, Mr Hamilton stated: “Some of the comments, the lack of record retention, lack of minutes, are all things that are in contravention of the codes of practice that accompany freedom of information legislation.
“The fact that we have these incomplete records of decisions is something that is in breach of the code.”The intervention will review current practices and identify steps to ensure improvements are made in relation to how officials and ministers use and retain informal communications in the future, to ensure people behave in an “appropriate way”.
Mr Hamilton denied that there was any conflict of interest in the investigation due to the first minister, Humza Yousaf, having previously criticised the Scottish Police Federation in messages sent to colleagues. At the time he was the justice secretary and Mr Hamilton was serving as chairman of the organisation.
The issue of informal messages, retention of messages and the lack of minutes for important government meetings, was a key part of the Covid inquiry in Scotland.The Scottish government was accused of “industrial scale” deletion of messages by opposition parties, but Ms Sturgeon stated that any “salient” points were recorded on the corporate record, and it was informal messages that were deleted.
The inquiry had also heard that minutes were not kept for the Scottish government’s equivalent of Cobra meetings – the Scottish Government Resilience Room – or for so-called “gold command” meetings, which comprised Ms Sturgeon and a handful of others.
In other news – UK armed forces not ready for high-intensity war, MPs war
The UK’s armed forces will not be ready for a “high-intensity” war unless shortages in personnel and equipment are rapidly addressed, MPs have warned. The Commons defence committee said personnel were leaving faster than they could be recruited, and the “offer” to them had to be improved.
A “vicious cycle” needed to be broken to allow the UK to face “increasingly challenging” threats, it added. Increasing recruitment and improving retention was a priority, the MoD said. Read more