The Public Records (Scotland) Act received Royal assent on 20 April 2011. It is the first new public records legislation in Scotland since 1937.
The Act came out of the Historic Abuse Systemic Review: Residential Schools and Children's Homes in Scotland 1950-1995 (The Shaw Report) published in 2007 which identified significant failures in public record keeping in the looked after children sector, and made several recommendations to Scottish Ministers for improvements. A further review in 2009 by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland (the Keeper) confirmed that problems with record keeping extended into other sectors as well.
The Shaw report can be consulted on the Scottish Government website at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2007/11/20104729/0.
The new Act applies only to named public authorities in Scotland, but it will reach into the private and voluntary sectors where a public authority decides to contract out a function to a private or voluntary body. The Act requires authorities to submit a records management plan (RMP) to be agreed by the Keeper. To assist authorities, the Keeper must develop and publish a model RMP and provide supporting guidance on the form and content of that plan.
Engagement with stakeholders is seen as crucial to developing these important documents and helping the Act to work correctly. Their development will be a collaborative effort between staff at the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and all those affected by the Act. To this end, the NRS has set up and convened the Public Records Stakeholder Forum, whose inaugural meeting took place in Edinburgh on 30 June. The Forum provides the main mechanism for reaching agreement over the form and content of the model RMP and guidance. It includes representatives from across sectors and relevant professions with the intention of delivering cross sector agreement on issues.
Membership of the Forum was drawn from a number of authorities chosen by the Keeper to represent individual sectors. With over 200 public authorities in Scotland it was not possible to invite everyone and approximately 40 organisations attended the first meeting. This included representatives from the private and voluntary sectors.
The bulk of the Forum's work will take place remotely, through an online discussion board (we are using the Government's Communities of Practice tool) supported by periodic face-to-face working group meetings. The smaller group meeting will address particular issues, for example issues surrounding shared information platforms. The draft model RMP will be divided into separate elements which might be considered essential in a records management plan. It is expected that the number and scope of these elements will change as the discussion progresses. Many public authorities in Scotland already operate some form of records management system and will therefore be familiar with these elements. The job of the Forum is to have agreed by January 2012 the components of the draft model RMP and the draft guidance so that they can be subjected to wider scrutiny by all those affected by the Act.
Once agreed and developed, the model RMP and guidance will be published and submitted to all authorities affected by the Act for wider scrutiny by means of a formal consultation. The consultation period will last for 12 weeks.
The Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011 provides the records management and archive community with a unique opportunity to improve record keeping in Scotland and to develop a records management asset created by a wide range of expertise and knowledge. It is hoped that this will better secure the safety of Scottish public records of enduring value, and support the long term retention and security of the personal records of vulnerable people, thus fulfilling the recommendations of the Shaw Report.
For more information about the Act and news of the latest developments go to the Public Records (Scotland) Act area of our website.