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The Act is working - but has the culture changed?

Image of filing Cabinet with documents flying out of itResearch shows public think freedom of information is working for them, but Scottish Information Commissioner asks whether culture change is happening.

Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, welcomed the findings of research published today (Monday 20 November) which shows that the Scottish public agree that more information is available as a result of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA). The survey also showed a sharp fall in those who believe that public authorities will find ways around the law. The findings suggest that public awareness of the freedom of information rights remains high (nearly three quarters of all respondents) following significant increases in awareness over the last two years.

The research was conducted on behalf of the Commissioner by Progressive Scottish Opinion between 17 and 24 October 2006 and is the latest in a series of surveys of public awareness of freedom of information law in Scotland.

The Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, said:

"The Scottish public recognise that the freedom of information act is a powerful tool, and the indications are that they are seeing the benefits of it. People are confident that more information will come into the public domain as a result and fewer believe authorities can get round the Act. However people still remain to be convinced that Scottish public authorities are changing culture to become more open and accountable."

The survey revealed that members of the public view the law positively.

  • For those who reported having made requests since the law came into force in 2005, 76% had received some or all of the information they had requested.
  • 68% of respondents to the survey agreed that, as a result of FOISA, more public authority information is available now than before.
  • The proportion of respondents who agreed that public authorities would find ways around the law and avoid providing information has decreased since the last survey from 66% to 57%.
  • However, the research also showed that people are less sure than in previous surveys that public authorities are becoming more open and accountable. 60% of respondents agreed that they are, compared with 67% in the previous survey.

The publication of the research coincides with a major conference on freedom of information in Scotland. In his keynote speech, the Commissioner will review the experience of the first two years of FOISA's operation. He will highlight the success of the legislation so far, arguing that it has made available information that would never previously have come into the public domain. However he will also ask whether there has been a culture change within public bodies which accepts that they should be more open and accountable.

Ends

For further information contact Claire Sigsworth or Sarah Hutchison on 01334 464610, out of hours, 07976 511752

More follows/Notes to Editors:

The conference "Where now for freedom of information in Scotland?" will take place on Monday 20 November at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh.

  • The research report will be available online at: www.itspublicknowledge.info from 9 am on Monday 20 November 2005. Embargoed copies can be requested in advance by contacting Claire Sigsworth or Sarah Hutchison.
  • The research was conducted on behalf of the Commissioner by Progressive Scottish Opinion. A representative sample 1001 respondents were interviewed by telephone between 17 and 24 October 2006.
  • Other key findings of the research are:
    • Respondents' awareness of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA),has remained steady (73% up from 72%) compared with the 2005 levels which reflected the impact of broad based public awareness raising, including an extensive period of TV advertising just before the third wave of the survey.
    • There has been an increase in the amount of respondents who have made requests to public authorities since FOISA.
    • Respondents who are aware of FOISA are more likely to;
      • i) understand they have rights to access information;
      • ii) have made requests for information held by public authorities;
      • iii) be aware of the SIC and,
      • iv) feel they will ask for information from a public authority in the next year.
    • There has been a decline in awareness of the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC).
    • Respondents are still confused about the rights afforded by FOISA. This is also amongst respondents that are aware of the Act and the SIC.
    • Newspapers continue to be the main way that people find out about the SIC and this year we have seen an increase in the respondents reporting that they have heard about the SIC from television programmes.
    • People who recall seeing an advertisement about FOISA are more likely to be aware of FOISA and the SIC.
    • There are gender, and social class differences in levels of awareness which may suggest targeted approaches to awareness raising.

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

  • The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) provides a statutory right of access to all information held by Scottish public authorities. This right came into effect on 1 January 2005.
  • Around 10,000 public authorities in Scotland are covered by FOISA. They include the Scottish Parliament and Executive, police forces, the NHS, local authorities, education institutions, and publicly owned companies.
  • Information can only be withheld by a public authority if it falls under one of the exemptions listed in FOISA. If an individual believes an authority is wrong to withhold information, they ultimately have a right of appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner, who can require release.

The Scottish Information Commissioner

  • Kevin Dunion the Scottish Information Commissioner is a fully independent public official, appointed by the Queen on the nomination of the Scottish Parliament.
  • His duties and powers are to ensure that people get the information from Scottish public authorities to which they are entitled.
  • His role actively promotes and enforces compliance with FOISA.

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