The Scottish Information Commissioner - It's Public Knowledge
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Image of calculatorFirst national FOI dataset reveals extent of FOI activity in Scotland

News release: 15 October 2013

The Scottish Information Commissioner has published Scotland's first ever dataset of FOI and EIR statistics today, revealing that authorities have received over 15,000 information requests between April and June 2013.

99% of public authorities responded to the Commissioner's call for details of their FOI and EIR requests, meaning that the dataset provides the first comprehensive overview of FOI requests recorded by Scotland's public sector.

Rosemary Agnew said:

"The response rate was fantastic, and shows the willingness of Scottish public authorities to work with us towards a robust national database. This early data also reveals some interesting points: for example, I received 155 appeals between April and June which is just 1% of all the requests which were recorded by authorities. This is exactly the kind of contextual information I have never had access to before, and which will help all of us better understand information requests across Scotland and the workload of public authorities.

"As expected, the way in which data is recorded varies slightly across authorities, so I'd advise against the temptation to make comparisons between authorities just yet. During this first year we will continue to work with authorities towards more robust and comprehensive data which will result in a database that is truly a valuable national resource. A resource which over time can be used to inform discussion about a range of FOI issues from good practice for both authorities and requesters to how FOI reflects on the openness of Scottish authorities. There is no denying this is an exciting first step."

Members of the public can access and download the dataset themselves at https://stats.itspublicknowledge.info. The next quarter's data will be published in December.

Ends

For more information contact the Commissioner's media team at 01334 464610 (07976 511752 out of hours) or email media@itspublicknowledge.info

Notes to editors

About the dataset

1. The Commissioner has published a short commentary setting out some of the characteristics of the dataset. It is very important to read this before viewing the dataset. It can be downloaded from the Commissioner's FOI statistics website page.  

2. They key points are:

(i) The data does not yet lend itself to comparisons between authorities, or to analyse data across fields. This, is due to differences in the way in which authorities have collected their data.

(ii) At this stage the Commissioner's focus is on addressing consistency of recording, not on analysis.

(iii) 46 authorities provided their data as part of another authority's submission. These are shown as joint submissions in the dataset.

(iv) These include 23 government agencies and non-ministerial officeholders included in the Scottish Ministers' submission, and 16 licensing boards who reported their data as part of their Council's submission.

3. The dataset reports 15,340 requests between 1 April and 30 June 2013.

4. The Commissioner is not responsible for the accuracy or completeness of the data provided by Scottish public authorities.

5. Any queries about an authority's own data should be made directly to that authority. We are happy to answer enquiries about the national FOI/EIR database project itself.

 

About the statistics collection project

6. The Commissioner wrote to all Scottish pubic authorities in March 2103, to alert them to her intention to start collecting FOI and EIR statistics every quarter, from 1 April 2013.

7. A copy of this letter, and the schedule of statistics we are collecting, is available on our website at Commissioner's FOI statistics website page.

8. An online collection system was launched in August 2013, and authorities were invited to make their first submission by 16 September 2013.

9. 99% of Scottish public authorities, for whom a response was required, responded to the Commissioner's requests for FOI and EIR statistics.

10. The online system enables members of the public to download a machine-readable version of the dataset. It can be found at https://stats.itspublicknowledge.info

 

About freedom of information

11. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (which came into force on 1st January 2005) provides individuals with a right to receive the information held by Scottish public authorities. 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.

12. Under FOI any written request for information must be responded to within 20 working days. Information can only be withheld where the FOI Act expressly permits it. Information can be withheld, for example, where its release would breach someone's right to privacy under data protection legislation, or where it would harm national security or an organisation's commercial interests. Even where an exemption applies, however, in many cases the Act also says that information must be released if it is in the public interest to do so.

13. There is a three-step process to requesting information. This works as follows:

(i) The request stage. An individual writes to an authority to request information. In most cases, the information will be provided first time, and there will be no need to move on to the later stages. Where information is refused, however, there is a right of appeal.

(ii) The review stage. The first stage of this right of appeal is to write to the authority asking it to review its handling of the original request. The authority has a further 20 working days to reconsider the request and respond.

(iii) The application stage. An individual can appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner if they are still unhappy. On receipt of an appeal, the Commissioner will conduct a full investigation. If she finds that the authority has withheld information incorrectly, she can force the authority to release it. She may also uphold the authority's decision to withhold information.

 

About the Scottish Information Commissioner

14. The Scottish Information Commissioner is a public official appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the nomination of the Scottish Parliament.

15. The Commissioner is responsible for promoting and enforcing Scotland's freedom of information laws.

16. The Commissioner: investigates applications and issues legally enforceable decisions; promotes good practice amongst public authorities; and provides the pubic with information on their rights.

17. The current Scottish Information Commissioner is Rosemary Agnew.

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