REVEALED: Public Audit FOI Session Exposes Swinney & Angus Grossart Met Seven Times Without Records
Campaigners at the Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee on Thursday called for Post Legislative Scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Scotland Act (FOISA). The meeting followed on from increasing concerns around public authorities, especially the Scottish Government, avoiding FOISA by not taking any minutes or notes of vital Government meetings.
Jeremy Corbyn Adviser, Tommy Kane, appearing before the Committee in a personal capacity as a relentless user of FOI over many years, echoed the concerns expressed by 23 journalists last year, by stating his concerns over how the Scottish Government, in particular, routinely sought to avoid their FOI obligations.
Kane suggested there is political interference in FOISA when journalists and political researchers request information, that often there are delays and non-responses to requests, serious redactions to information provided, and tenuous use of exemptions as well as not taking minutes of notes.
Kane revealed how Freedom of information requests he made showed that John Swinney met Merchant Banker and Businessman Sir Angus Grossart seven times without any minutes being recorded. Swinney himself seems to be a serial non-note taker. Previous revelations have shown he met with INEOS when they were lobbying hard for fracking to happen in Scotland and no minutes were taken of that meeting.
Grossart, a controversial Merchant Banker who was then head of the Scottish Futures Trust, prompting concerns over potential conflicts of interest, was instrumental in pioneering the use of the reheated PFI ‘non-profit-distributing’ (but still profit distributing) funding model.
Despite Grossart’s central role in delivering capital investment projects in Scotland no minutes or notes were taken when the then Finance Minister John Swinney met with Grossart on the following occasions: 9th June 2011, 17th November 2011, 15th May 2014, 2nd June 2015, 3rd August 2015, 2nd October 2015, and 5th November 2015. Similar meetings were also held by then First Minister Alex Salmond with Mr Grossart on three occasions, and Nicola Sturgeon twice. None of these meetings yielded any records or notes.
When approached over this information, the ministers first failed to respond, and then admitted that records didn’t exist, stating simply that it was ‘unfortunate’, despite the practice going against the government’s own record keeping guidelines.
We’ll leave it up to the readers to decide whether it was inappropriate for a Finance Minister to meet a top banker and refusing to divulge what was said. One thing is for sure this certainly seems to go against the spirit and law of Freedom Of Information, which is a vital tool in holding public authorities to account, and underlines the need for Post Legislative scrutiny as argued by campaigners on Thursday.