The Scottish Information Commissioner - It's Public Knowledge
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2010/11 in brief

Freedom of Information Annual Report 2010/11

Following the elections in May 2011, many MSPs will not have been in the Scottish Parliament when FOISA was passed in 2002.  At the time, Parliament recognised that, in giving people the right to information, public authorities would have to change their culture and practice in responding to requests and making information publicly available.  Central to that process was establishing the right of appeal to me, as the Scottish Information Commissioner.

As Commissioner, my primary roles are to:

  • deal with applications (also commonly called "appeals") where people are not satisfied with an authority's response to a request for information
  • promote good practice and ensure authorities comply with the law
  • approve publication schemes submitted by authorities
  • promote public awareness of the legislation

I also have certain obligations towards the Scottish Parliament, including the laying of an annual report.  My report for the calendar year 2010 was laid before Parliament in February 2011.  However a change in legislation means that an annual report must now be made for each financial year, starting with 2010-11.  So this report supplements the information previously provided in my 2010 Annual Report.

Appeals

The number of appeals being made to me, far from diminishing, is showing an upturn.  The number of cases which required a formal decision increased markedly from 179 in 2009/10 to 263 in 2010/11.  Nevertheless my staff are committed to resolving cases as quickly as possible and, even with a demanding caseload, we are meeting our targets for case closure.  The number of enquiries dealt with remains at over 1,600 per annum.

"My staff are committed to resolving cases as quickly as possible and, even with a demanding caseload, we are meeting our targets for case closure."

Kevin Dunion, Scottish Information Commissioner

The vast majority of appeals still come from individuals, and the number of appeals from MSPs and voluntary organisations is showing a decline.  Research by the University of Strathclyde, sponsored in part by my office, has shown that some voluntary organisations may be inhibited from making requests to authorities or from appealing refusals, for fear that this may jeopardise their relationship with those authorities on which they depend for funding or other support.  However many others report that they have good relationships, and receive all the information they ask for, informally or formally, without the need to invoke the right to internal review by the authority, far less making an appeal to me.

Practice Assessments

An important initiative has been the programme of assessments of authorities' practice in complying with FOISA and the EIRs. This has shown that authorities do strive to meet their obligations but that improvements can be made.  Voluntary action plans, agreed with authorities, have brought about a marked improvement by several bodies. Assessments have also highlighted examples of good practice which we think it is important to acknowledge in our reports and draw to the attention of other authorities.  Examples include: on-going internal training programmes to ensure staff awareness of the law and good practice is kept up-to-date; robust systems to log FOI requests and the deadlines by which responses should be given; and strong and independent internal review procedures to properly re-consider requests. 13 assessments were conducted in 2010/11 including five local authorities, a health board and a police force as well as the Scottish Prison Service, Scottish Water, and Scottish Enterprise.

Model Publication Schemes

Every Scottish public authority has to have a publication scheme setting out the classes of information which it undertakes to publish. I expect this to include e.g. council or board meeting minutes; financial reports; papers detailing current policy on tendering or recruitment and so on.  Publication schemes have to have my approval - this can be an onerous and protracted process for the authority as well as for my office.

Through my Policy and Information Team we have consulted on a Model Publication Scheme which every Scottish public authority can adopt, to be supplemented by a more user-friendly guide to publicly available information.  I am pleased to report that, following a pilot of the Model Scheme with 61 public authorities and all Scotland's publicly owned companies, a survey found that it was overwhelmingly supported.  Almost 40% of survey respondents said that it will mean even more information being made available than before.

Promotion

I constantly strive to find better ways of presenting information to the public

In 2010 I used my very limited PR budget to promote the 5th anniversary of FOISA coming into effect, a campaign which received the gold award for "Best Public Sector Campaign" and the silver award in the "Best Use of Media Relations" category at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) 2010 PRide Awards.  In 2011, I introduced an "infographic" into my on-line annual report for 2010 ? the first time that any Scottish public authority has done so - to present statistical information in an animated form. This has led to a further CIPR nomination, in the "Best Integrated Campaign" category.

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