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Public favours extension of freedom of information rights

10 December 2008

Research published today [10 December 2008] by the Scottish Information Commissioner reveals that over two thirds of the Scottish population favour extending Scotland's freedom of information (FOI) laws to cover organisations other than public authorities, such as housing associations and privately run prisons.

The research, which was undertaken by Progressive Scottish Opinion as part of the Commissioner's annual public awareness survey, found that 66% of people favoured extending the FOI 'right to information' to prisons run by the private sector. This figure rose to 69% for housing associations, 73% for trusts providing local authority health and leisure services, 75% for private organisations that build and maintain local authority schools, and 79% for those that build and maintain NHS hospitals.

The publication of the research coincides with a major conference in Edinburgh at which speakers including Bruce Crawford, the Minister for Parliamentary Business, and Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion, will explore issues around extending the right to information. The extension of FOI is currently under consideration by the Scottish Government, which published a discussion paper on the matter in November.

Launching the research report, Kevin Dunion said:

"Our research reveals that the Scottish public is broadly in favour of bringing additional bodies that provide public services within the scope of freedom of information law. The responsibility of delivering public services is increasingly being transferred to those outwith the public sector, and there is growing concern that this transfer is leading to an erosion of the public's rights to the information which matters to them on the operational delivery of health, housing, and leisure services. Our study shows that members of the public value their rights to information, with 67% reporting that FOI is useful to them. It is therefore vital that we look at ways in which these rights can be safeguarded within this changing public service landscape."

Ends

For further information contact the Commissioner's Media Team on 01334 464610, out of hours on 07976 511752, or email media@itspublicknowledge.info.

Download the Research Report and the Underlying Data Sets:

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Public Awareness Research Report 2008 (Size: 242kb)

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Public Awareness Research Report 2008 - Data Sets (Size: 223kb)


Notes to Editors:

The Research Report:

  • The research was conducted on behalf of the Commissioner by Progressive Scottish Opinion. A representative sample of 1002 respondents were interviewed by telephone between 14th and 25th October 2008.
  • Other findings of the research included:
    • 78% of respondents reported that they are aware of FOI. This represents a 34% increase since the research began in 2004.
    • The number of people who believe that Scotland's public authorities are becoming more open has decreased to 59%, from 64% in 2007. Conversely, the number of people who feel that FOI is useful to them has increased, from 62% in 2007 to 67% in 2008.
    • People with disabilities continue to have lower levels of awareness of their FOI rights that those without disabilities.
  • The number of people who have submitted an FOI request to a public authority has remained static since 2007, at 9%.
  • Awareness of the Scottish Information Commissioner has increased to 21% from 14% in 2007.
  • There remains some confusion amongst respondents between the right to general information under the FOI legislation, and the right to their own personal information under the Data Protection Act 1998.

The 6th Annual Holyrood Freedom of Information Conference:

  • The 6th Annual Holyrood Freedom of Information Conference, entitled 'Extending the Right to Information' takes place on Wednesday 10th December at the Sheraton Hotel in Edinburgh. The conference is organised by Holyrood Events, is supported by the Scottish Information Commissioner and is sponsored by Brodies LLP.
  • Speakers at the conference include: Bruce Crawford MSP, Minister for Parliamentary Business; Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner; and Heather Brooke, the freedom of information campaigner who was at the heart of the MPs' expenses story earlier this year and author of 'Your Right to Know'.
  • Further information on the conference can be found at: Holyrood Conference 2008

The Scottish Government's Discussion Paper:

  • The Scottish Government published its discussion paper on extending the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 on 17 November 2008.
  • The paper seeks views on extending the FOI Act to cover:
    • Contractors who provide services that are a function of a public authority;
    • Registered social landlords;
    • Local authority trusts or bodies set up by local authorities.
  • The discussion paper can be viewed on the Scottish Government's website at: Scottish Government's Designation Discussion Paper.
  • The Government is seeking responses to the discussion paper by 12 January 2009. The Commissioner plans to submit his response to the Government and publish it on his website early in the new year.

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002:

  • The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 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 the Act. They include the Scottish Parliament and Government, 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 the Act.
  • If an individual believes an authority is wrong to withhold information, there is 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 role actively promotes and enforces compliance with the freedom of information legislation.
  • Since 2005, the Commissioner has issued over 700 formal decisions under the FOI Act.

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