Show me your working

At last, I’ve had a reply from Mary Scanlon MSP, the Education Spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, about my questions regarding their claims relating to standards of food hygiene in Scottish schools. Her reply is as follows:

Dear Mr Mackie

Thank you for getting in contact concerning our recent release on hygiene failings in school kitchens.

I would like to apologise for the delay in responding to your requests. I completely accept that it should not take three emails before a response is forthcoming. I will look into why this was the case, but would point out that my office first became aware of your concerns only last week.

The purpose of the story was simple: to highlight the fact that many school kitchens across Scotland have been told to improve standards. Parents, quite rightly, take a keen interest in such matters and thus by publicising the data we were serving an important public interest.

That said, it should have been made clear that Environmental Health Officers, not the FSA, conducted the inspections. A number of EHOs have contacted me since the story was published and I have apologised for any offence that was caused. With future stories of this nature, proper representation will always be given.

Beyond that, I would point out that we never sought to give the impression that every facility was in breach of cleanliness guidelines. In fact, we made it clear that the “improvement required” ratings were broad in scope.

We also refrained from naming individual schools. We did this so as to ensure that serious breaches were not conflated with less serious (although still concerning) shortcomings.

We were also very careful not to exaggerate the findings. The data published on the FSA website contained numerous after school clubs held at facilities (such as churches) which cannot reasonably be expected to adhere to the same strict standards as nurseries, primary and secondary schools. In such instances we erred on the side of caution and omitted them from our results.

While I appreciate your argument that the news reports were not sufficiently nuanced, the story was intended to highlight a broad problem which will concern many parents, pupils and staff. As I argued at the time, and as you pointed out in your blog, all failings are issues of concern and this should not be lost sight of.

Once again, thank you for your correspondence.

 Yours Sincerely

Mary Scanlon MSP

They’re still not showing their working, so I’ve replied:

Dear Mrs Scanlon,
Thank you for your response and I know it’s useful to be alerted to problems with particular channels of communication.
As to the interpretation of the FSA ratings data, your own quote stated that:
(a) improvement notices were served, and
(b) many of the adverse ratings were for cleanliness.
Neither statement can be derived from the rating data, which is why I have requested a copy of the study on which your media report and quoted statements were made. I wish to verify whether your researcher has done a good job in sourcing and interpreting the data which was used in your story. This is not a matter of nuance, but facts, and the public deserve to be provided with accurate facts, even though there may be disagreement on their interpretation or the proper response to them.
Thank you in anticipation,
Yours sincerely,
Patrick Mackie

As I’ve said before, I’m not hopeful that they will disclose what they’d demand of any professional making the same claims. But we shall see.

Improvement required from the Scottish Conservatives

Improvement Required

I wrote previously about bad food safety statistics from the Scottish Conservatives and, a week later, about their failure to respond to my questions about their report. Since I’ve had no acknowledgement nor any response in the week since my last enquiry, I’ve now emailed Mary Scanlon MSP directly as follows:

Subject: Food hygiene standards in Scottish schools

Dear Ms Scanlon,
Earlier this month the Scottish Conservatives published a media release on food hygiene standards in Scottish schools and which quoted you as the Education spokesperson for the party. I do not believe the conclusions reached in that report could be based on the reported data sources, nor that the report accurately represents the regulation of food safety in schools in Scotland. I have written a critique of that report here
I have twice attempted to obtain additional information about the report through the enquiries form on the Scottish Conservatives’ website, but have received neither an acknowledgement of my request nor a response. I am certain that you would expect better customer care of any public sector body and will be as surprised as I am that I have been ignored to date.
My second request was dated 11th January – one week ago – and was as follows:

On 6th January I made an enquiry which has, to date, neither been answered nor acknowledged. You can find the text of my question at the foot of this blog post:
I’d appreciate a response.
Thank you

I am certain that you care as much as I do about the safety of food in schools AND the accuracy of the reporting of the facts. I should be grateful for your response to these enquiries.
Yours sincerely,
Patrick Mackie

Let’s see how long it takes to get a response and the answers this time. All correspondence will be posted here.