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Commissioner urges people from all backgrounds to be aware of their rights to information

Scottish Information Commissioner's 2007 Annual Report

Press release: 11 March 2008

Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner has expressed concern that people from black and minority ethnic communities should be aware that they have rights to access information held by Scottish public authorities ? and should be confident about making information requests. His statement came as he launched his fourth annual report yesterday, Monday 10 March 2008.

"Asylum seekers, refugees and people whose first language is not English may not be aware that they have important rights to access information.  They may also not be aware that public authorities are under a duty to provide advice and assistance to anyone who wants to see information that they hold.  Everyone has the right to make a request and to be given support to do so ? not just citizens of this country."

People across Scotland are asking for information of interest to them in their every day lives, from the availability of services through to the reasons for decisions.

The Commissioner and the Scottish Consumer Council have produced an information booklet "Your right to know: a guide to freedom of information law in Scotland"  available in 10 community languages, on the Commissioner's website here.

New figures released for the first time in this year's report, 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).

Although public awareness of FOI is at 74 per cent and applications have been consistently high over the last three years, the Commissioner is concerned that awareness of individual rights amongst key social groups such as people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, may not be as high.

The Commissioner is concerned that people from black and minority ethnic communities may not know that the legislation exists, understand how to use the legislation or know that it can help them to access information for their own benefit.

"With Scotland's social landscape changing so quickly, we need to ensure that all social groups understand their rights in relation to accessing information, particularly if that information can help effect real change in their lives", said Mr Dunion.

"The list is endless but issues such as housing, employment and crime affect everyone and that means that anyone living in Scotland - regardless of background, race, class or culture - has the right to access information held by Scottish public authorities.

"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."

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 ie as a result of being withdrawn or settled.

Overall, 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.

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

Ends

Notes to Editors

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act came into effect on 1 January 2005.In the first three years of operation, the Commissioner received 1,574 applications ? 90 per cent 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 (482 new applications) 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 Act 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)

For further information, please contact Carolynne Coole or Joanne Krukowski at Consolidated Communications on 0131 240 6421/6424 or email Scotland@consol.co.uk.

 

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