Extension of FOI
2009 saw important steps being taken towards the extension of Scotland's FOI regime to cover a wider range of bodies.
In November 2008, the Scottish Government published a discussion paper on extending the scope of FOI. The Commissioner's response to this paper sets out his view that the Act should be extended to cover bodies such as housing associations, local authority trusts and contractors delivering significant public services. In doing so, the Commissioner raised concerns that, when the delivery of public services is handed over to bodies outwith the public sector, there is an erosion of the Scottish public's FOI rights.
In his submission, the Commissioner noted that that it was the intention of Parliament that the power to extend FOI to other bodies should be actively used by Ministers. He also stressed the importance that the public's right to information under FOI 'follows the public pound' – that is, that where important public services are funded from the public purse, then the public should have a right to information about those services. The Commissioner also pointed out that public opinion in Scotland favours the extension of the Act to cover these bodies (e.g. see 2009 public awareness survey).
Following consideration of the responses to its discussion paper, the Government announced in December that it would move forward to a formal consultation with the bodies that have been earmarked for potential designation. These comprise leisure and recreational trusts, PFI/PPP contractors involved in projects to deliver hospitals, schools and trunk roads, the Glasgow Housing Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS), and private prisons.
The Commissioner has welcomed the Government's steps towards the extension of FOI, and is looking forward to supporting both the Government and consultee bodies through 2010 and beyond, as this important work moves forward.