National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011 - One Year On

Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011 - One Year On

Wednesday, 15 Jan 2014
Keeper’s Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011 Annual Report-Image

Records are crucial for a democracy. They inform us about our past and our present and act as the ultimate guarantee of our rights, but we tend to take them for granted until some crisis highlights their importance. To address this issue, Parliament passed the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011 (PRSA), which came into effect on 1st January 2013.

New legislation was a recommendation of the Historical Abuse Systemic Review (Shaw Report) which in 2007 highlighted the destruction of thousands of records in the looked-after children sector. This left many people who had gone through the care system without any way of accessing records which document their formative years. The Act’s aim is to improve the quality of record keeping within 250 named Scottish public authorities.

The Act obliges authorities scheduled under the Act to prepare, implement and keep under review a records management plan setting out arrangements for the management of records either created or held by the authority. They must submit their plan to the Keeper of the Records of Scotland (the Keeper) for his agreement. Implementing agreed plans will help improve governance and efficiencies within authorities and increase accountability at a local level.

One year on, the signs are that matters are improving. A PRSA Assessment Team, based in the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in Edinburgh, has assessed 19 plans and these have been agreed by the Keeper. A list of agreed plans can be seen on the NRS(NAS) website.  Over the next four years all scheduled authorities will be invited to submit plans for assessment.  The Keeper’s Model Plan and Guidance, issued to support public bodies develop their plans, has proven to be very useful and in May, the Assessment Team were awarded the Information and Records Management Society’s prestigious Records Management Team of the Year Award for 2013 in recognition of the success of these documents.

During 2013 the Assessment Team actively engaged with public authorities by holding a series of 8 ‘Surgery’ events at venues across Scotland, including Ayr, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Kirkwall. Surgeries provided practical advice on how to create a plan and gave representatives of public authorities the opportunity to engage directly with the Assessment Team. Feedback from these events was extremely positive and they will continue in 2014.

The year ended with an inaugural PRSA Conference on 3rd December, held in the City Halls, Glasgow. A wide range of speakers from across the UK delivered talks on the relationship of the Act with other information regulation regimes and the influence of the Act on record keeping practices within Scottish public authorities.

There is evidence that the Act is influencing practice elsewhere in Europe and in North America. This is extremely encouraging as the Assessment Team aims to continue working with authorities in Scotland to encourage best practice records management. As well as providing efficiencies in the public sector, this will continue to safeguard the rights of Scottish citizens, particularly the most vulnerable in our society.