Commentary

Introductory transcript

The text below provides a transcript of the Commissioner's 2010 review video. You can view the video in full here.

2010 review

2010 saw a 50% increase in the volume of decisions issued by my Office and amongst them there were many significant cases. For example, I issued decisions to do with the Shirley McKie fingerprint affair, the controversial Edinburgh tram scheme, and on the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. I also had appeals to do with public authority staff salaries, school mergers and bullying in the workplace.

2010 also saw the conclusion of a number of complex and long-running cases including one dealing with the potential sites for nuclear waste disposal in Scotland, which involved over 1,100 separate documents. In July we also reached a landmark when I issued my 1,000th decision.

During 2010 there was a sense that FOI has begun to mature in Scotland. While the number of enquiries I received about how to make use of FOI rights have increased, the number of appeals to me have remained steady at around 400 cases. However, there is a change in the balance of the outcomes of my decisions. In 2010 I partially upheld the appeal in 41% of cases, often leading to the release of some, but not all, of the information requested. It would appear then that FOI is 'bedding-in' in Scotland, with authorities improving the handling of the requests being made to them, but with requesters increasingly aware of how to make best use of their rights.

During 2010 I was concerned that some authorities were taking a highly restrictive view of freedom of information, by refusing to comply with requests, simply because they had been asked for a copy of a document. To my mind that is at odds with both the principles and the requirements of freedom of information. However, I am pleased to say that my subsequent decisions that such requests are valid have not been challenged, and I hope not to see further refusals on this basis.

It was disappointing to learn at the beginning of 2011 that the Scottish Government is not intending to extend FOI to cover bodies such as local authority leisure and recreation trusts, the Glasgow Housing Association, or to contractors that maintain many of our schools and hospitals. I have always been of the view that freedom of information should follow the public pound, and that Scotland should not, therefore, be left behind as the rest of the UK pushes forward with its transparency agenda.

There are signs that the public sector cuts are driving people to make more use of their freedom of information rights, as they try to understand how scarce public money is being spent. I do recognise that freedom of information does impose demands upon Scotland's public authorities but, as our practice assessments have shown, the burden of this can be reduced by, for example, investing in staff training or improving records management. But above all, authorities can reduce the burden simply by being less cautious in disclosing information.