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Annual Report Launch 2011 12Call for "Better Freedom of Information" as appeal numbers rise

19 September 2012

Appeals to the Scottish Information Commissioner have risen by 24% over the last year, indicating an increasing use of freedom of information (FOI) rights. As in previous years, the majority of appeals (77%) were made by members of the public, followed by the media (12%), commercial organisations (6%) and the voluntary sector (2%).

Speaking at the launch of her first Annual Report as Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew called on both the public and public authorities to improve the way they use freedom of information, to ensure that requests are dealt with as effectively as possible. She also urged the Scottish Government to look seriously at the designation of bodies under FOI, to ensure that the erosion of FOI rights arising from the out-sourcing of public services can be halted.

The Commissioner said:

"The current economic situation is leading to an increase in FOI requests to authorities, as people naturally want to understand the reasons behind decisions that affect them. At the same time, authorities are finding themselves with fewer resources to respond. My priority as Commissioner is to help the public make better targeted, more effective requests, while also developing resources to support public authorities in responding to those requests faster and more efficiently.

"However, an ever-growing concern is the loss of rights occurring through the delivery of public services by "arms-length" organisations and third parties. FOI was introduced for a reason - to ensure that the delivery of public services and the spending of public money is transparent, open and accountable. It is simply not acceptable that citizens' rights continue to be eroded through complex changes in the delivery of services. This must be looked at as an immediate priority."

The Annual Report also highlights the efficiencies made by the Commissioner's office over the last year under the leadership of Rosemary Agnew's predecessor, Kevin Dunion. These include a significant reduction in the time taken for the Commissioner to investigate an appeal and issue a decision (63% were closed within four months, compared with 33% last year), despite the sharp increase in the number of appeals received, and funding cuts to the Commissioner's office.

Most appeals to the Commissioner (45%) related to information held by local government, while there was a 13% increase in appeals relating to Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament.

The Commissioner's report is published in the wake of her evidence session before the Scottish Parliament's Finance Committee, during last week's scrutiny of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Amendment Bill. In her evidence to the Committee, Ms Agnew welcomed the positive amendments to FOI that the Bill will introduce, while expressing concerns about the proposed creation of a new, wide-ranging absolute exemption for communications with senior members of the Royal Family. The Commissioner also discussed the need to extend FOI to other bodies.

The report will be available to download from the Commissioner's website at www.itspublicknowledge.info from today.

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 the Annual Report 2011/12:

  • This is the ninth annual report of the Scottish Information Commissioner, the first by Rosemary Agnew, who came into post in May, following Kevin Dunion's departure from office in February.
  • The report was laid before the Scottish Parliament on 18 September 2012.
  • You can view the online version of the Annual Report 2011/12 and download a PDF copy at from 19 September 2012.

Key highlights of the report:

  • The Commissioner's office received 524 appeals in 2011/12, compared with 424 the previous year (a 23% increase).
  • The majority (77%) of appeals came from ordinary members of the public, 12% from media and 6% from commercial or private organisations.
  • The share of appeals relating to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament increased to 28%, compared to 15% the previous year. The share of appeals relating to local government remained steady at 45% of the total caseload.
  • The caseload age profile improved dramatically in 2011/12:
    • 72% of all appeals were closed within four months (compared to 48% the previous year).
    • 63% of appeals closed with decision were closed within four months (compared to 33% the previous year).
  • There was a small increase in the volume of enquiries to the office to 1,678 (against 1,634 in the previous year).
  • At the same time, the Commissioner's office is on course to achieve 15% savings over three years (to March 2014).

About the Scottish Information 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 their request for information
    • issues legally enforceable decision 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.

About the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill:

The Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill proposes a number of measures. These include:

  • An extension to the time period in which a prosecution can be brought under section 65 of the FOI Act (i.e. in relation to the offence of altering, concealing or destroying records to prevent disclosure). The amendment will mean that prosecutions can be brought within 6 months of the discovery of the offence, rather than the current 6 months from the commission of the offence.
  • The ability to take a more flexible approach when reducing the time period after which certain exemptions can no longer be applied.
  • The creation of an absolute exemption for information relating to communications with senior members of the Royal Family.

The Scottish Parliament's Finance Committee has just concluded its oral evidence sessions at Stage 1 of the consideration of the Bill. The most recent evidence session, on 12 September, included evidence from Scottish Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew and Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, Nicola Sturgeon.

The Commissioner's written evidence to the Finance Committee is available at: www.itspublicknowledge.info/uploadedfiles/FOIAmendmentBillConsultationResponseJuly2012.pdf.The transcript of the oral evidence session is available at: www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/29822.aspx

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