Public Law

Last Thursday and Friday, Jackie and I were in Dundee for the annual conference of the Society of Local Authority Lawyers & Administrators in Scotland (which is a bit of a mouthful, and so, helpfully, has been shortened to SOLAR).

Likes its name suggests, the conference was attended by various lawyers and administrators from local authorities in Scotland, and consisted of presentations and workshops on a variety of topics. Jackie facilitated a workshop on Community Planning which enable participants to exchange views on what was working well in different areas and what could be done to increase the pace of change in terms of collaborative working between public bodies In Scotland.

Of particular interest, Jim Martin, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman spoke about the fact that last year the number of complaints regarding local authorities fell by 4%. He attributed this to renewed attempts by local authorities to resolve disputes before they arrive at his desk, and urged the conference delegates to continue this.

Separately, Rosemary Agnew, the Scottish Information Commissioner, gave a presentation highlighting the key issues facing local authorities as regards requests for information. In her view, having good records management and engaging in correspondence with a requester are key factors if local authorities wish to try to limit the number of requests for review, and appeals.

She also confirmed that her office would be writing to all Scottish local authorities for details of the requests for information they have received over the past 12 months. The aim of this is to collate a database on the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner website (http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/ScottishInformationCommissioner.asp) providing details of all the requests for information received by the different local authorities.

During the tea breaks, a key point of discussion at the conference was how Scottish local authorities would be affected if there was a ‘yes’ vote in the 2014 independence referendum. The consensus appeared to be “we don’t have enough information to know that yet”.

If you attended the conference and have any thoughts on these issues, we’d be happy to hear them. Even if you didn’t attend but have a view, we’d like to hear from you.