The Scottish Information Commissioner - It's Public Knowledge
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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round-up: 27 to 31 August 2012

We published two new decisions this week:
 

Key messages:

  • Think - is it environmental information?
    Authorities often fail to identify information as "environmental" and so subject to different access rights. It is easily done - by all of us. In a decision we published this week (Decision 140/2012), it was not until the late stages of investigation that we realised some of the information was environmental, and should have been considered under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations (the EIRs). All authorities should ensure that procedures are in place to allow for the early identification of environmental information at both initial request and review stage, and when responding to us in relation to an appeal. As a result of this case, we are reviewing our own procedures to ensure that environmental information is identified as early as possible. For more information on handing these requests visit: www.itspublicknowledge.info/eirs.


  • Releasing information during an investigation can bring a swifter resolution to an appeal
    Often when we investigate an appeal, an authority will reach a position agreeing that withheld information can be released. This usually follows discussion with us around past rulings, or the appropriate application of exemptions. This was the case in a decision published this week (Decision 140/2012) where the authority, following the publication of a similar ruling by the Commissioner, agreed to the disclosure of information. Releasing information during an investigation can help resolve cases more quickly - to the benefit of both the applicant and the public authority. For authorities it is a more efficient use of resources, while applicants get the information sooner.


  • Not all information relating to payments to officials is appropriate for disclosure
    A number of our past decisions required the release of information relating to salaries or expenses paid to public officials, but a recent decision (Decision 139/2012) shows that there are limits to what it is appropriate to disclose. We ruled that an authority was correct to withhold information relating to the pension provided to a former councillor. We found that the wide range of variables that can influence the value of an individual's pension, such as additional voluntary contributions, meant that the information was not equivalent to, for example, a salary wholly funded by taxpayers.

Summary of decisions:

  • Decision 139/2012 - Mr Leslie Sinclair and Falkirk Council
    Mr Sinclair asked the Council for details relating to the pension provided to a former councillor. Our investigation concluded that the Council had been right to withhold the information, because it contained personal data, the release of which would breach data protection law.


  • Decision 140/2012 - Tom Gordon of the Sunday Herald and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Gordon asked Scottish Ministers for a number of internal audit reports. This request was one of several for similar information. During the course of the investigation, we issued a ruling in relation to another of Mr Gordon's requests, requiring information to be disclosed. As a result, Ministers agreed to disclose most of the information withheld in this case during the course of the investigation. At a late stage in the investigation, we recognised that most of the reports contained environmental information, and so should have been considered under the EIRs.

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