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Cover of the printed version of the ActCommissioner welcomes Scottish Government moves to protect the public's right to information by extending FOI in Scotland

News release: 8 December 2009

Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner, today (8 December) welcomed the announcement[1] by Bruce Crawford, Minister for Parliamentary Business, of the Government's intention to formally consult on extending the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 to cover local authority leisure and recreation trusts and private prisons.  Ministers also announced plans to consult on bringing ACPOS and the Glasgow Housing Association under the FOI Act in Scotland, as well as PPP/PFI contracts for hospitals, schools and roads.

The Commissioner has been calling[2], since 2007, for Scottish Ministers to recognise the threat to the public's right to information posed by changes in how Scotland's public services are being delivered, and to take steps to 'follow the public pound'.  The Minister's announcement goes well beyond the very limited commitments made at Westminster to extend FOI south of the border[3].

Mr Dunion says "I am pleased that the public's right to information is being protected and in some cases extended by the Scottish Government's proposals to bring bodies like local authority trusts, private prisons and PPP contractors within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

I will use the period of consultation to argue that the right to information is not an unreasonable burden. There is no evidence of any material damage to commercial interests or public procurement from FOI disclosures in Scotland over the past 5 years. It needs to be accepted that where substantial sums of public money are being expended then the public should have right to know.  Freedom of information should follow the public pound."

ENDS

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


Notes to Editors:

[1] Ministers' Announcement

Speaking at the 7th Annual Holyrood FOI Conference today (8 December 2009), Minister for Parliamentary Business, Bruce Crawford MSP, announced the Scottish Government's intention to formally consult on the designation, as public bodies for the purposes of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 ('FOISA') of: the Association of Scottish Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS); Scotland's private prisons; The Glasgow Housing Association Ltd; charitable trusts set up by local authorities to deliver leisure and recreational services; and PPP/PFI contracts for hospitals, schools and roads.

The announcement follows the Government's discussion exercise conducted in late 2008, in which the Minister sought views from a range of stakeholders on the designation of registered social landlords, contractors who provide public services that are a function of a public authority (for example, contractors providing prison services), and local authority trusts or bodies set up by local authorities (for example, bodies set up by local authorities as limited companies to run leisure facilities).  The exercise closed in January 2009.  Ministers are now required, under the Act, to formally consult with bodies which will be affected before an order to designate can be made.

[2] The Commissioner's views on designation

Speaking at the 5th Annual Holyrood FOI Conference in October 2007, the Scottish Information Commissioner called for the Scottish Government to take steps to protect the FOI rights of people, which are being lost when public services are operated by private or charitable bodies such as housing associations, and charitable leisure and recreational trusts.  Click here to see the Commissioner's full submission. 

In January 2009, the Commissioner submitted his views to the Government's discussion exercise, in which he called for the designation of all registered social landlords, private prisons, PPP/PFI contracts and charitable leisure and recreational trusts. Click here to see the Commissioner's news release. 

[3] What's happened in the rest of the UK?

On 25 October 2007, the Ministry of Justice published a consultation seeking views on the designation of organisations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 ('FOIA') because they were: i) exercising functions of a public nature; or ii) are providing service under contract with a public authority whose provision is a function of that authority.  In July 2009, the Ministry of Justice announced its intention to bring forward an order under section 5 of FOIA to designate Academy schools, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Financial Ombudsman Service and UCAS.  These bodies will be consulted directly and the UK government intends to bring forward a section 5 order 'early in 2009/2010 parliamentary session'.

About FOISA and designation under Section 5

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 provides individuals and organisations with a right to receive information held by over 10,000 public authorities in Scotland. The Act applies to the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and the NHS in Scotland, as well as all of Scotland's police forces, local authorities and universities.

Section 5 of FOISA 'Further power to designate Scottish public authorities', gives Scottish Ministers the power to designate, by order, as a Scottish public authority for the purposes of FOISA, a person or organisation who appears to Ministers to be exercising functions of a public nature; or are providing, under a contract made with a Scottish public authority, any service whose provision is a function of that authority.

Section 5 only relates to bodes which are not, for the time being, Scottish public authorities.  Bodies which can be defined, under Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998, as Scottish public authorities are capable of being added by an order brought under section 4 of FOISA 'Amendment of schedule 1'.

About the Scottish Information Commissioner

Kevin Dunion was appointed as the first Scottish Information Commissioner in February 2003. He was appointed for a second, and final term, for four years until 2012.  Since the FOI Act came into force, he has received 2,273 applications, and closed 900 cases with decision (figures as at September 2009).

 

 

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