Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Further memoranda from the Scotland Office


(1)  Page 30 of the Scotland Office Annual Report shows the Scotland Office Resources budget falling by £1.1 million in 2010-11 (a 28% fall on the year before). What are the main reasons for this fall, and what areas of activity will be most affected?

  Response: The UK Government's strategy for the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 (CSR2007) was that Departments should deliver minus 5% average annual growth in administration costs over the CSR period and this was reflected in a reduction from the provision in 2007-08 of £6.468 million to provision in 2010-11 of £6.024 million. The Offices' are satisfied that they have sufficient resources for their overall needs.

(2)  The Committee wrote to the Scotland Office seeking further information on the £0.9 million draw-down of End-Year Flexibility in the February 2008 Spring Supplementary Estimate. The Scotland Office's response of 29 April provided information on four causes of the need for the additional expenditure in 2007-08:

—  other government departments vacating Dover House, leaving the Scotland Office to bear a bigger share of the running costs;

—  Dover House HQ upkeep costs;

—  fewer OAG cases undertaken and costs reimbursed by DWP; and

—  the OAG employing additional solicitors to handle increased legislative work.

How much of the £0.9 million draw-down corresponds to each of those four areas?

  Response: The broad figures of the cost of these items were as follows:

    —  other government departments vacating Dover House, leaving the Scotland Office to bear a bigger share of the running costs for part of the year—£0.1 million;

    —  Dover House HQ upkeep costs—£0.5 million;

    —  fewer OAG cases undertaken and costs reimbursed by DWP—£0.1 million; and

    —  the OAG employing additional solicitors to handle increased legislative work—£0.2 million.

(3)  The letter from the Scotland Office (29 April) also stated that the stock of EYF available for 2008-09 onwards stands at £2.4 million, which is more than the £1 million figure for the Scotland Office identified by the Ministry of Justice in its Main Estimates memorandum. Why are the figures different?

  Response: The figures published in the Scotland Office Memorandum reflected the final EYF figures agreed with HM Treasury and we expect these to be published in the Ministry of Justice Memorandum at the next opportunity.


(4)  The Scotland Office's target to respond to FOI requests within 20 days was met on 66% of the 71 FOI requests, compared with 90% in the previous year. Why was the performance so much worse?

  Response: The Scotland Office takes its responsibilities under the FOI Act very seriously and gives high priority to the handling of its FOI workload. In addition to handling 71 requests (up from 65 in the previous year) the Scotland Office was also involved in two high profile cases of litigation before the Information Tribunal which will help to establish jurisprudence on several exemptions under the Act and the Office devoted substantial resources to those cases.

  The Scotland Office regrets that the figure for replying to requestors within 20 days was less in 2007-08 than it was in 2006-07 but notes that 89% of cases were answered within 25 days. Failing to comply with the 20 day target is unacceptable but the overall service to the public cannot be said to have declined significantly. The Scotland Office has put in place measures to improve its performance in 2008-09.

  It is also the case that the Scotland Office has one of the highest disclosure rates among Government departments. In the Ministry of Justice's annual report on the operation of the FOI Act in central government for 2007[14] departments of state released requested information in full in response to 62% of requests. The Scotland Office achieved 76%, the third highest of any department.

(5)  What, if any, efficiency targets have been agreed with the Scotland Office under the Comprehensive Spending Review? Does the Scotland Office contribute to any cross-cutting PSAs and/or Ministry of Justice objectives?

  Response: The Scotland Office and the Office of the Advocate General do not have any specific efficiency targets under CSR; however, the Offices support the MoJ in reaching the targets that the Department has agreed with HM Treasury.


(6)  Why does the Office of the Advocate General's staff complement increase from 32 to 38 in 2008-09?

  Response: Annex 9 to the Annual Report 2008 of the Scotland Office and the Office of the Advocate General for Scotland shows that the actual number of staff in post in the Office of the Advocate General in 2007-08 was 36.3. Accordingly, the proposed increase in staff complement to 38 represents 1.7 additional staff, compared to the position in practice in 2007-08.

  During the period 2007-08 there was an increase in staffing, from a complement of 32 to 36.3, to respond to a significant increase in legislative and advisory work for UK Government Departments, as well as an increase in the work directly related to the responsibilities of the Advocate General, especially litigation.

  In the period 2008-09, the proposed additional 1.7 posts are to include administrative as well as legal staff, to respond effectively and efficiently to the projected increased level of work.

July 2008

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