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Authorities seek guidance on 2005 FOI compliance

Scottish Information Commissioner giving a speechNEWS RELEASE - 17 Nov 2003

FOI Scotland: Countdown to Freedom of Information conference overwhelmed by delegate registrations.

The organisers of this week's 'FOI Scotland: Countdown to Freedom of Information' conference have been overwhelmed by the number of delegates hoping to attend the event.

The event, which will inform Scotland's public authorities of their duties under the Act, has so far seen interest rise to 25% more than the capacity of the venue. The response has been so great that a second, follow-up event is being considered for early next year.

The conference, hosted jointly by the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner (OSIC) and The Stationery Office (TSO), will be attended by over 350 delegates from Scotland's public authorities. Delegates will include members of the Scottish Executive and the Parliament, along with representatives from Scotland's police forces, health boards, educational institutions and local government departments.

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act comes into force on January 1st, 2005, and provides individuals with a legal right of access to information held by Scottish public authorities. In addition, each public authority will be required to produce a 'publication scheme'. These schemes will encourage proactive disclosure by authorities on an unprecedented level.

Speakers at the conference include Kevin Dunion, the first Scottish Information Commissioner, and Tim Ellis, head of the Freedom of Information Unit at the Scottish Executive. Delegates will discuss a number of issues relating to the preparation for Freedom of Information, including the measures required for compliance and the relationship between the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act and the Data Protection Act.

Mr Dunion said, "Scottish public authorities will have to upgrade, and in some cases completely overhaul, the way in which they hold information and provide it to the public, to meet the challenge of freedom of information. The majority still have a lot of work to do over the next 14 months to ensure that they are ready to meet their legal obligations. The excellent attendance at this conference shows that many authorities are preparing to take their obligations under the Act seriously. We aim to help them." Elizabeth Scott-Wilson, directory of advisory services at TSO agreed. "While the majority of Scottish public authorities have a theoretical awareness of their obligations, few seem to have a full understanding of what is required to meet them in practice. It is clear that those responsible need clearer guidance and advice on how to implement the information management systems necessary to comply with the Scottish FOI Act."

This week's conference aims to go some way towards providing them with that guidance. The conference is being held at the Murrayfield Stadium Conference Centre in Edinburgh, on Wednesday, 19th November.

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