The Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011 (PRSA 2011) requires public bodies in Scotland to develop a Records Management Plan and submit it for the approval of the Keeper of the Records of Scotland. Many of these plans, usually approved on a five year basis, are now approaching the time when they will need to be revised and put through the approval process once again. Moreover, the Keeper’s team have been actively revising their “Model Plan” and will be expecting more from authorities on the submission of their new plans over the next couple of years.
The PRSA 2011 received Royal Assent on 20 April 2011, aiming to fill a gap in information governance which had long existed. Although there had been some sector specific records requirements there was no overall legislative framework guiding the creation, management or retention of information in the Scottish public sector.
The Act came in on the back of the 2007 Shaw Report which blamed poor record keeping for many of the difficulties faced by former residents of residential schools and children’s homes. The Scottish Government took a broad view of the implications of Shaw; this in turn led to the PRSA covering a broad range of named public authorities including the Scottish Government and Parliament, local authorities, NHS, police and the courts.
Despite concerns, strongly expressed at the time by COSLA among others, that the Act would present yet another onerous burden during a period of particularly harsh austerity, it is probably fair to say that the PRSA has been a success, giving Scotland a solid statutory basis for its record keeping for the first time.
Records Management Plans
The core of the Act is the requirement to develop and maintain a Records Management Plan. This, in theory, can take any form but in practice authorities have tended to closely follow the Keeper’s “Model” comprising (originally) 14 elements:
- Senior management responsibility
- Records manager responsibility
- Records management policy statement
- Business classification
- Retention schedules
- Destruction arrangements
- Archiving and transfer arrangements
- Information security
- Data protection
- Business continuity and vital records
- Audit trail
- Competency framework for records management staff
- Assessment and review
- Shared information
One significant change to the way that the Keeper will be assessing authorities’ Records Management Plans is that there is now an “Element 15” in the Model Plan, covering third party records. S2 and S3 of the Public Records (Scotland) Act always defined the scope of the legislation broadly so as to cover the records of external agencies carrying out functions on behalf of the public authority, but that is now going to be more explicitly defined and the Keeper will expect to see evidence of policies and procedures under this “Element 15”.
The Keeper is currently undertaking a review of these requirements so it is as yet unclear exactly what will be required. The issue was covered in some detail at the Stakeholders’ forums which the Keeper hosted last year, and there is some guidance and model contractual clauses available from the National Records of Scotland, and from the Scottish Council on Archives and Quality Scotland.
Another significant change in the Keeper’s approach to what will be required from Records Management Plans is a general refocussing on data protection. This had always featured in the Model Plan with element 9 dedicated to the appropriate management of personal data but now data protection runs through the Keeper’s guidance like the writing through a stick of rock. As well as beefing up element 9, each section of the Keeper’s guidance now includes a data protection theme as an example of good practice.
The scope of the PRSA continues to broaden. The Keeper is currently going through the approval process of the Integrated Joint Boards, and (as with Freedom of Information?) there will be pressure to extend the list of bodies covered by the Act. The position of Trusts and some other arms-length authorities remains unclear but all organisations of a public nature would be well advised to get up to speed with the requirements of the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011.
Throughout the process of the passage of the Bill, the Keeper always made a commitment to use the carrot rather than the stick. This has worked well, with the very helpful team at the NRS providing support and guidance on a range of records issues. As the records environment matures, however, and as more is expected of authorities, might we see a more robust approach from the regulator? In retrospect, some of the early schemes which the Keeper approved now look somewhat thin; it may be unlikely that these would have passed had they been submitted today.
- Records Management Policies. Some authorities conflate “policy” and “Plan”.
I’d suggest a clear separation, with the Policy simply summarising the case for records management, allocating responsibilities, defining terms and setting out key principles. This element of the plan can also be used to include area-specific policies and procedures which perhaps don’t fit neatly elsewhere.
- We’ll consider the standards and resources available. What are the standards that you need to know about? In developing or amending your plan, how far can you rely on off-the-shelf resources such as business classification schemes and retention schedules? What do you have to do to make these really work for you?
- The Keeper has a self-review mechanism for already established Records Management Plans. The “Progress Update Review” mechanism is available and the Keeper has suggested that completing this process will delay the requirement for a full resubmission of your Plan. But what factors should be considered in deciding when to use the PUR and when to complete a full resubmission?
- Links to other relevant legislation. In particular, the GDPR, the Data Protection Act 2018 and the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2004. As noted above, the start of the review of the model scheme was at the same time as the implementation of the GDPR and this seems to have very much focussed the Keeper’s attention on data protection. What will authorities need to do to ensure that their RMPs are up to speed with the new DP requirements?
- Electronic Records Management. In theory, records principles are blind to the media by which the information is created, stored and managed. In practice, however, the Records Management Plan can be an excellent focus to develop and promote policies and practical guidance which relates specifically to information in alternative media.
- Getting “buy in”. We will consider the best ways to get support for the Records Management Plan within your organisation. It is important that you are able to show the benefits of good records management – and not just in terms of statutory compliance or improved efficiency. By developing a culture of regarding information as a corporate asset you be able to demonstrate that records management is vital in evidencing the rights and responsibilities of the organisation and in maintaining a high quality corporate memory through the development of a proper archive service.
- Making it real. The RMP should not just be a paper exercise but should be a functioning set of tools which ensure that the organisation derives maximum value from its information resources. To be of real value, the Plan needs to be embedded throughout the organisation, rather than just a neat stack of policies on a corner of the Chief Executive’s desk.
Craig Geddes is a qualified archivist and records manager, with 28 years’ experience working across the range of information governance activities. He has recently joined the Act Now team to deliver freedom of information and records management courses in Scotland.