Freedom of Information
The prospect of extending the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act to cover more organisations carrying out certain public functions has been raised.
Parliamentary Business Minister Bruce Crawford said the Government is committed to fully exploring the issues around coverage but stressed that a final decision on extending coverage would be taken only after consultation with interested parties and those organisations potentially affected.
As a first step, Mr Crawford will have discussions with interested parties about bringing within the scope of the Act the following organisations:
- Registered social landlords
- Contractors who provide public services that are a function of a public authority (for example, contractors providing prison services)
- Local authority trusts or bodies set up by local authorities (for example, bodies set up by local authorities as limited companies to run leisure facilities)
At the start of a week when the Minister will be in London and Cardiff to discuss FOI policy in the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly, Mr Crawford said:
"The Scottish Government is committed to the principles that underpin Freedom of Information legislation. Principles of openness and transparency, essential parts of open democratic government and responsive public services.
"We've taken steps within the Government to publish more of our material proactively. For example, we recently revised our Publication Scheme which describes the vast range of Government information we routinely publish. The First Minister also recently announced a pilot scheme within an area of the Scottish Government, which will see an increase in the amount of information made public.
"And we are committed to continually assessing whether the scope of the Act can be improved. I believe it has served the people of Scotland well but it is still a relatively new piece of legislation and many people and organisations are still getting used to both its real and potential impact.
"The organisations we are looking at in terms of coverage have not been chosen at random. They are bodies about whom concerns over a lack of coverage have consistently been raised with us. The concerns may have arisen because of changes in the way public services are delivered - for example the contracting out of services traditionally provided directly by a public authority.
"Discussions will take place before any decision is taken to formally consult. But formal consultation is not a rubber-stamping exercise. Any extension of coverage needs to be measured and appropriate.
"For example, we will look closely at the issue of the proportional impact on smaller organisations particularly in the voluntary sector.
"I am aware there are differing arguments and there is a need to balance those. But I believe it is only right to give serious thought to extending FOI coverage in Scotland.
"Later this week I will discuss FOI with the relevant UK and Welsh Ministers and share our experiences. I am keen to ensure that Scotland continues to build a reputation for greater transparency and accountability".
The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (the Act) provides significant and important rights allowing access to recorded information.
The Act came into force on January 1, 2005 and provides a statutory right of access to information held by Scottish public authorities. These include, for example, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament, local authorities, schools, colleges, NHS Scotland and the police. The Act also requires the proactive publication of certain information. Compliance with the Act is promoted and enforced by the Scottish Information Commissioner.