The Scottish Information Commissioner - It's Public Knowledge
Share this Page
Tweet this page:
Text Size Icon

- Text Size Up | Down

University of Highlands and Islands coat of armsCommissioner recommends UHI improves FOI practice

News release: 5 July 2012

Rosemary Agnew, Scottish Information Commissioner, has issued a formal Practice Recommendation  to the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI), following an assessment of the University which concluded that it is not meeting its obligations under Scotland's freedom of information (FOI) laws. It is only the second formal Practice Recommendation issued since the Freedom of Information (Scotland) 2002 came into force in 2005.

During a practice assessment visit in February this year, the Commissioner found that significant improvements were needed to staff training, management of FOI in the University, procedures for handling information requests and reviews, and monitoring systems.

Mrs Agnew said:

"One of the key aspirations I have for my term in office is to help public authorities deliver FOI more efficiently and effectively and to recognise the value FOI can add to wider corporate aims.  I believe that meeting statutory obligations under FOI can contribute to and enable authorities to become more effective and transparent.  Getting it right first time can help an authority make efficiency gains at a time when resources are ever scarcer.  I have taken the unusual step of issuing a Practice Recommendation in this case because of the range of areas of concern, and the need for swift action to remedy some of the problems identified.  Although this is a very formal step, our aim is to facilitate improvement that is to the benefit of the University and we will work supportively as needed to help them develop their FOI practice over the coming months."

The Commissioner carries out a programme of practice assessments with Scottish public authorities, helping authorities recognise and share good practice, and working with them to make improvements.  She is also planning to develop a framework of continuous improvement of public authority FOI practice, to provide better practical support to authorities who want "do FOI better".  UHI will report back to the Commissioner in six months' time, setting out the measures it has taken to implement the recommendations set out in the Practice Recommendation.

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:

About Practice Recommendations ? what the law says

Scottish Ministers have issued a Code of Practice under Section 60 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) and regulation 18 of the Environmental Information (Scotland Regulations 2004 (EIRs), on the discharge of functions by public authorities under those laws.

Under section 44(1) of FOISA, the Commissioner may give a public authority a recommendation if it appears to her that the authority's practice does not conform to the Ministers' Code of Practice.

Known as a Practice Recommendation, it must be in writing, specifying:

  • the provisions of the Code with which, in the Commissioner's opinion, the authority does not conform, and
  • the steps which the authority ought to take in order to conform.

By virtue of regulation 18(5) and (6) of the EIRs, section 44(1) applies to the Code as issued under section 60 of FOISA and regulation 18 of the EIRs.

A Practice Recommendation cannot be directly enforced by the Commissioner.  However if the authority fails to take the steps specified in a Practice Recommendation, it may also be failing to comply with FOISA or the EIRs.  This may result in an Enforcement Notice being issued to the authority under section 5(1) of FOISA.

A failure to take steps specified in a Practice Recommendation can lead to a report to the Scottish Parliament by the Commissioner under section 46(3).

About the Practice Recommendation issued to University of Highlands and Islands

A full copy of the Practice Recommendation, issued to UHI on 7 June 2012, is available to download from the Commissioner's website: Practice Recommendation - University of Highlands of Islands (PDF - 91kB).

A copy of the Practice Assessment Report and Action Plan prepared after the assessment visit to UHI is also available to download online:

The Practice Recommendation requires that UHI:

  • provides general awareness training to ensure all staff can identify FOI requests
  • provide in-depth training for those with specific responsibility for dealing with information requests
  • provides specific training for staff who may be called upon to undertake FOI reviews
  • establishes responsibility at a senior level for ensuring compliance with FOISA and the EIRs
  • defines the allocation of roles and responsibilities associated with dealing with requests
  • develops a robust policy and supporting procedures for dealing with information requests
  • develops a documented review procedure
  • puts in place robust logging, tracking and monitoring systems.

The Commissioner has requested that UHI provide her with a report within six months from the date of the Practice Recommendation, setting out the measures it has taken to implement the steps with evidence to demonstrate improvement in these areas.

About the Commissioner

The Scottish Information Commissioner is responsible for enforcing and promoting the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRS), and the INSPIRE (Scotland) Regulations 2009.

FOISA and the EIRs came into force on 1 January 2005, giving anyone, anywhere in the world, important rights to access the information held by more than 10,000 public authorities in Scotland. The Commissioner's duties are set out in FOISA.

In summary, the Scottish Information Commissioner:

  • investigates appeals made to her when people are dissatisfied with how a public authority dealt with a request for information
  • issues legally enforceable decisions in relation to these appeals
  • promotes good practice amongst public authorities and
  • provides the public and public authorities with information about their rights and obligations under FOI laws.

The current Scottish Information Commissioner is Rosemary Agnew. Rosemary took up office on 1 May 2012, for a fixed period of six years. Her predecessor, Kevin Dunion, held the post of Commissioner for nine years, and demitted office in February 2012.

View The Scottish Information Commissioner's biography.

Back to Top