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Launch of new freedom of information resources for the voluntary sector

Press release: 9 March 2009

New resources to support the voluntary sector in using Scotland's freedom of information (FOI) laws have been launched today [Monday 9 March] by the Scottish Information Commissioner. The include a web-portal for voluntary sector organisations with advice and guidance on how to make use of the FOI 'right to information', and an enquiry service providing one-to-one support. Information available includes advice on framing information requests to public authorities, as well as examples of the wide range of information that can be requested.

The new web-portal also features helpful examples of past use of FOI laws by voluntary organisations, which illustrate how FOI can be of real benefit to the sector. These examples include details of requests made by the NSPCC to access previously unpublished data on the number of recorded sex offences involving children, and information on a campaign by Inclusion Scotland to gather data from Scottish local authorities on the provision of accessible and affordable housing for people with disabilities.

The launch of the new resource coincides with the publication of the Scottish Information Commissioner's Annual Report for 2008. In the report, Commissioner Kevin Dunion sets out the key future priorities for his Office, including a three-year research partnership with the University of Strathclyde to explore the use of FOI by Scotland's voluntary sector.

Launching both the Annual Report and the new web-portal, Kevin Dunion said:

"I am concerned that FOI rights may be underused by the voluntary sector, and my research programme with the University of Strathclyde aims to explore this further. There is no doubt that freedom of information can be an extremely valuable resource for the sector, as the examples on my new web-portal make clear.

"I would invite voluntary organisations to make active use of both the web-portal and our enquiry service when considering making information requests to a public authority, in order to ensure that they are using their FOI rights as effectively and successfully as possible."

Donna McSwiggan, Information Officer at Inclusion Scotland, whose use of FOI is highlighted on the new web-portal, said:

"We have uncovered major gaps in both housing and service provisions as a result of our FOI requests. We plan to use the information to work with local authorities, housing associations and the Scottish Government to address the underlying issues. Freedom of information proved to be an invaluable tool for Inclusion Scotland, and we would encourage other voluntary organisations to make use of FOI in their work."

Sandy Longmuir from the Scottish Rural Schools Network, an organisation which has successfully used FOI as part of its campaign to prevent the closure over sixty rural schools, is also in no doubt of the benefits that FOI has brought to the work of his organisation:

"We have used FOI to gather information from various local education authorities, and many of the documents uncovered have been pivotal in altering the course of Council decisions on school closures. I'm not sure how we could have done this without the FOI Act being in place and working effectively. FOI has undoubtedly helped change things for the better in the rural corners of Scotland."

The Commissioner's web-portal is available at , and his enquiry service is available on 01334 464610, or by email at enquiries@itspublicknowledge.info.

ENDS

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

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