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Image of front cover of Annual Report 2007First comprehensive data on Freedom of Information appeals

Annual Report 2007 shows Scottish Government and councils are subject of most appeals

Press Release - 10 March 2008

The Scottish Government and local authorities have been the subject of over two thirds of all applications to the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, since the Act came into force in 2005, according to his fourth annual report published today (Monday 10 March 2008).

New figures released for the first time, show a breakdown of the 1,574 applications to the Commissioner by individual public authority from 2005 until 2007 ? with central government accounting for the greatest amount (267), followed by Glasgow City Council (68), City of Edinburgh Council (60) and Strathclyde Police (50).

The high volume of appeals concerning central and local government is consistent with other countries that have Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation, and shows that Scots are keen to engage more directly with the government, on both a national and local level.

However the new breakdown illustrates that, of the 1,574 appeals made to the Scottish Information Commissioner since January 2005, local health boards (101 in total) and universities/colleges (46 in total) were responsible for a surprisingly low number.

"At the heart of Freedom of Information legislation is a commitment to providing people with the information necessary for them to understand the activities of public authorities, to help them participate in future decisions and to hold those same authorities to account for their decisions.  It may well be that sectors such as health and education are responding well to many information requests or they may be receiving far fewer requests than they expected.  Whatever the reason we need to understand better why appeals from these sectors are so low", said Kevin Dunion.

In 2007 alone, the Commissioner received 482 new applications and issued 249 decisions ? of which 105 were in favour of the authority, 62 in favour of the applicant and 82 were partially upheld.  A further 215 applications were closed without investigation and 135 were closed during investigation e.g. as a result of being withdrawn or settled.

The Commissioner's report also highlights another area of concern.  Public awareness of FOI legislation is at 74 per cent and applications have been consistently high over the last three years.  However, research suggests that certain social groups including young people, the elderly, and people with disabilities are not as aware of FOI and its benefits as other groups.

"With Scotland's social landscape changing so quickly, we need to ensure that all groups understand their rights to access information", said Dunion.

"FOI can be a powerful tool in helping to change an individual's circumstances. But individuals cannot use their rights unless they are aware of them."

Overall, however, the report demonstrates that FOI laws have been a resounding success in Scotland - people are proactively exercising their right to ask for information, and public authorities are adapting well to providing it.  That said, the Commissioner is aware that Scotland faces a number of challenges before a really open Scotland is achieved.  He has flagged up his concerns that people's rights are in danger of being curtailed by the increasing trend of public authorities to use private firms and charitable trusts to deliver public services such as health, housing or leisure services.

"The transfer of these functions may, at a stroke, remove freedom of information rights where these bodies are not covered by the legislation, leaving the public with no right in law to that information", said Mr Dunion.  He is now actively engaged with the Scottish Government to explore the arguments around extending the FOI legislation.

Kevin Dunion was re-appointed as the Scottish Information Commissioner in February 2008 for a second and final term, until 2012.

Download full report and key facts

Case Studies

Notes to Editors 

An online copy of the Scottish Information Commissioner's Annual Report 2007 can be accessed here and hard copies can be ordered by contacting . 

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act came into effect on 1 January 2005.  In the first 3 years of operation, the Commissioner received 1,574 applications ? 90% of these had been dealt with by the end of 2007, leading to 594 decisions.

Highlights of the 2007 Annual Report include:

  • In 2007 alone, the Commissioner dealt with 781 cases and made 249 decisions. 215 applications were closed without investigation and 135 were withdrawn or settled'.
  • Case closure rates have improved year on year ? by the end of 2007 the caseload had been reduced to 182 applications.
  • In 2007, the Commissioner greatly reduced the backlog of cases which had built up since 2005, when applications far exceeded expectation.  The target remains to close all excess cases by April 2008.
  • Public awareness of the FOI has increased to 74 per cent from 47 per cent in 2005.
  • 77 per cent of appeals came from ordinary members of the public, 7 per cent from elected representatives, 6 per cent from the media and 4 per cent from voluntary/campaigning organisations.
  • 89 per cent of authorities think they have become more open since FOISA, while 64 per cent of the public think they are now more open and accountable.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 respondents to the public opinion survey in 2007 had made a written request to a public authority.  86 per cent of these received all or some of the information they asked for.

Of the applications to the Commissioner during 2007, the breakdown by subject area was as follows:

  • administration and finance (17 per cent)
  • safety and crime (10 per cent)
  • commercial activities and contracts (9 per cent)
  • employment (9 per cent)
  • planning and property (6 per cent)
  • education and learning (5 per cent)
  • care services (4 per cent)
  • environment (3 per cent)
  • health (3 per cent)

Highlights of the new public authority tables (2005-2007) include:

  • Of applications Ministers and the Parliament, the highest number of applications related to the Scottish Government (267) followed by the Scottish Prison Service (33) and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (26).
  • Of applications relating to non-ministerial offices in the Scottish Administration, the highest number of applications involved the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal (28).
  • Of applications involving local government, Glasgow City Council (68), City of Edinburgh Council (60), Fife Council (34), South Lanarkshire and Dundee City Council (32), accounted for the highest number.
  • Of applications to the National Health Service, Greater Glasgow Health Board were the subject of more than any other (17), followed by the Common Services Agency (15) and Grampian NHS Board (13).
  • Of applications to educational institutions, the University of Glasgow (8) and the University of Paisley/West of Scotland (8) were the subject of the most.
  • Of applications concerning police forces, the highest number involved Strathclyde Police (50), then Central Scotland Police (29) and Tayside Police (29).
  • Of other government-funded agencies, Scottish Water were involved with 20, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency with 12 and the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman with 10.
  • Of publicly owned companies, Caledonian MacBrayne were involved with the highest number of applications (11) followed by City Building (Glasgow) LLP (4).

For further information, please contact Carolynne Coole or Will Holt at Consolidated Communications on 0131 240 6421/2 or email Scotland@consol.co.uk.

 

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