Commissioner's Statement on 2022-23
2022-23: Building a resilient future
Following the reduction in the overall numbers of requests for information made to Scottish Public Authorities during the pandemic, request numbers have strongly recovered in the past year to almost 84,000, numbers not seen since 2018-19. This 13% increase in requests compared to the previous reporting year illustrates the extent of the public’s appetite for access to information from Scotland’s public bodies. This is especially so in difficult times, with the cost of living crisis and high inflation affecting many, when decisions taken by our public bodies can have heightened impact on people’s lives, such as their ability to access vital services.
Against this backdrop of increased demand, we have seen positive signs of resilience in the performance of public bodies, with 86% of responses being issued on time, the same as in the previous reporting year, despite the additional volume. Additionally, there has been an increase, to 75%, of the number of requests which result in disclosure of some or all of the information requested, and over 52% resulting in disclosure of all the information requested. These figures increase to an impressive 84% and 59% respectively once information not held cases are discounted.
Given that most requests are resolved (positively) at the authority level, our continued support of authorities over the past year in providing detailed guidance and updates, supporting network meetings and good practice initiatives, delivering training at events and conferences, responding to enquiries, monitoring performance, and, where necessary, intervening to resolve problems and help them improve, remains a crucial aspect of the output of my office.
We were therefore pleased to support the eCase FOI Awards as an initiative to showcase FOI good practice as well as recognising individual and team performance, and it was encouraging to see strong Scottish Public Authority performance evident in the UK-wide event. In particular, it was encouraging to see positive examples of the use of proactive publication in making it easier for people to access information on topics of interest to them. This year we also provided increased support to public authorities through our enquiries service, with public authority queries accounting for one third of the 808 enquiries received.
We have also continued our targeted and proactive interventions work to improve authority performance. While the number of Level 1 interventions we have been able to conduct has reduced this year, intervention activity at all other levels, including the most often used (non-compliance notifications), remained at similar levels to last year, allowing proportionate engagement with authorities, improving practice for the benefit of requesters.
While appeal numbers received by my office in 2022-23 reduced to more normal pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels at 527, overall case numbers continued to rise during the first two quarters, before beginning to stabilise in the second half of the reporting year. As anticipated in last year’s report, the high caseload carried forward into 2022-23 has created challenges for my small team, coinciding with a reduction in staff resource pending the recruitment of new enforcement team members. This has unfortunately contributed to further delays being experienced by applicants who make appeals to us. My team has continued to work hard to manage these delays, keep people informed of the progression of their cases and to streamline and improve our procedures, identifying and addressing pinch points in the system. These initiatives are already showing improved performance in relation to a number of indicators, and, combined with the recruitment of new staff, we are in a better position to reduce case numbers over the next year.
This reporting year saw the launch of our new and much improved website, and we have been continuing to enhance it further for both members of the public and authorities to access useful and relevant content. This includes our Open Update newsletter, which provides news, advice and guidance to Scotland’s FOI community and which saw a 45% increase in subscribers over the course of the year - I would encourage you to subscribe too!
Looking to the future, we participated in two significant consultations on FOI law in Scotland, one a Private Member’s Bill consultation and the other from the Scottish Government. We have provided detailed responses to both consultations, highlighting the need for improvement of the system while acknowledging its existing strengths, and supporting positive change while cautioning against potential detrimental second order effects of some proposals. I look forward to seeing practical and positive legislative change following on from these initiatives.
Unfortunately, I will be viewing developments from afar as this is my final Annual Report as the Scottish Information Commissioner before I demit office later this year. It has been a privilege as well as a pleasure to be at the helm over the past six years, and particularly to work with such an excellent team. I congratulate David Hamilton on his appointment as the next Commissioner and wish him well in moving this crucial role forward during his tenure.
Scottish Information Commissioner