Commentary

Model publication scheme

A new approach to publication schemes

Scotland and the UK have pioneered the concept of publication schemes – a legal requirement that sits alongside a public authority's duty to respond to information requests, and requires that they also publish information that they hold.

The aim is to make information available so that the public can access it for themselves, without having to make a request for it. A publication scheme sets out the types of information that an authority publishes proactively, with the aim being to reduce the work involved in responding to individual information requests – the authority can instead point to the information already available, and requesters can target any subsequent requests to the information they want that is not already published.

In 2010 the Commissioner reviewed his experience of publication schemes in practice. This review has led to the development of a fresh approach towards these schemes and, in particular, a focus on the development of a single 'model' scheme for Scottish public authorities.

The legislation allows for the development of 'model' publication schemes - single schemes that are shared by groups of similar authorities. Model schemes have been beneficial in a number of ways. They have:

  • reduced administration of individual schemes;
  • 'raised the bar' in terms of the information that is made available;
  • encouraged consistency between authorities;
  • been easier for the public to understand.

At the same time, however, practical issues about charging and accessibility of information have caused some problems for the public. Anything included in an approved publication scheme is automatically, and absolutely, exempt from release in response to an FOI request. The Commissioner's approval is therefore critical to how well the publication scheme provision works in practice in Scotland.

Consultation

In September the Commissioner launched a consultation on his proposals to change the way he approves publication schemes. As a result, he is now piloting the introduction of a single model publication scheme with Scottish public authorities which were due to submit their schemes for approval in 2011.

Under the new approach, authorities will no longer be required to seek the Commissioner's approval to adopt the scheme, but they will have to produce a guide for the public to the information that they make available through the scheme. The Commissioner's staff will be monitoring the effectiveness of the approach, scrutinising the availability of information and identifying best practice.

If the pilot is successful, the Commissioner aims to roll out the model scheme for all Scottish public authorities by the end of 2011.

Further information on publication schemes and the Commissioner's new approach.

Details of the consultation, including consultation responses.