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.
For further information contact the Commissioner's Media Team on 01334 464610, out of hours on 07976 511752, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to Editors:
About the Annual Report 2011/12:
Key highlights of the report:
About the Scottish Information Commissioner:
About the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill:
The Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill proposes a number of measures. These include:
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