Interventions Activity

Introduction

As part of the Scottish Information Commissioner's duty to enforce freedom of information (FOI), we carry out interventions in cases where a Scottish public authority is failing to meet the requirements and standards set out in FOI law.

Interventions are not intended to penalise authorities for poor practice but to support them in improving performance, including by identifying and resolving any internal issues that are impacting on that performance. However, where an authority fails to take appropriate action, the Commissioner has the power to issue formal practice recommendations and/or enforcement notices.

Find out more about what interventions are and how we carry them out - see our Interventions Approach and Procedures.

We publish information periodically about our interventions, and once an intervention is closed, we will ensure learning points are made available for other authorities to benefit from where possible.

Interventions in 2020-21

Our intervention caseload in reporting year 2020-21, with comparison to 2019-20, was as follows:

  • Non-compliance notifications: 229 (2019-20: 217)
  • Level 1 interventions: 24 (2019-20: 16)
  • Level 2 interventions: 6 (2019-20: 15)
  • Level 3 interventions: 1 (2019-20: 3)
  • Level 4 interventions: 0 (2019-20: 0)
  • TOTAL: 260 (2019-20: 251)

While broadly on par with previous years, the total number of interventions active in the year was slightly higher in 2020-21 than in previous years; however, the increase is largely accounted for by the rise in non-compliance notifications. A greater proportion of the other intervention cases were at Level 1, with fewer interventions at Levels 2 and 3 compared with previous years.

The fall in Level 2 case numbers is largely because statistics-related cases have been reclassified from Level 2 to Level 1. Also, for resource management reasons, the Commissioner opened a number of interventions at Level 1 which would ordinarily be raised at Level 2, allowing for authorities to resolve the issue swiftly while reserving the ability to escalate the intervention to a higher level if required.

Level 1 interventions

Of the 24 Level 1 interventions active in 2020-21, 12 were closed and 12 were ongoing at the year end, as follows:

Closed

Publication of information: Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Qualifications Authority

Publication scheme: City of Edinburgh Council, Fife Council, Police Scotland

These interventions were opened after members of the public contacted us with concerns about published information not being kept up-to-date or information that appeared to be missing from an authority's publication scheme. In each case, the authority uploaded the missing information to its website or updated its publication scheme.

Statistics submission: Children's Hearings Scotland, Dundee City Integration Joint Board (IJB), East Lothian IJB, Inverclyde Licensing Board, Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, Kilmarnock Leisure Centre Trust, Scottish Borders IJB

Each quarter, we request FOI statistics from all authorities that are subject to FOI. The interventions were opened with authorities which failed to submit FOI statistics on time for at least 3 consecutive quarters. Such cases are usually resolved fairly quickly by the authority submitting the relevant stats.

Open

Charging for requests: East Lothian Council

This intervention was made in response to analysis of statistics and evidence from our investigations regarding the authority's use of the charging provisions in the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations (the EIRs). The intervention sought to understand any reasons for this trend, ensure that training is available to staff on differentiating between environmental and non-environmental information, and that any charges made are in accordance with the relevant legislation.

Compliance with timescales: Aberdeen City Council, Creative Scotland, NHS Highland, NHS Western Isles, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, University of Dundee.

These Level 1 interventions were opened following analysis of authorities' FOI statistics, which showed either a long-term trend of relatively high rates of late responses to requests, or particularly high late-response rates during the Covid-19 pandemic period (taking into account the disruption caused).

These interventions mostly seek information from the authority about the causes of these statistical trends, and details of actions they are taking to resolve them.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency intervention was initiated in December 2020 but initially delayed following the criminal cyber-attack on the authority later that month, and has since been superseded by a separate intervention designed to support the authority in maintaining its FOI function as it recovers from the effects of the cyber-attack.

Statistics submission: Aberdeen City IJB, Argyll College, Eden Court, Perth and Kinross Sports Council, Regional Board for Glasgow Colleges.

See explanation of closed statistics submission interventions above. Perth and Kinross Sports Council has since been found not to be subject to FOI.

Level 2 interventions

One Level 2 intervention was closed during 2020-21; the other 5 remained open at the year end.

Closed

Compliance with timescales: City of Edinburgh Council.

See explanation of open timescales-related interventions below.

Statistics submission: Netherlea School.

This case was opened at Level 2 in 2019-20 following several consecutive quarters of non-submission, in accordance with the Intervention Procedures in place at that time. Statistics interventions are now opened at Level 1, as above.

Open

Compliance with timescales: Highland Council, Scottish Ambulance Service Board, Scottish Police Authority, University of Edinburgh.

These Level 2 interventions were opened following analysis of authorities' FOI statistics, which showed a significant long-term trend of high rates of late responses to requests (starting before the periods of disruption caused as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic).

These interventions have involved:

  • Seeking an explanation of the factors that have led to the high late response rates
  • Advising the authority to complete Module 1 of the Commissioner's Self-Assessment Toolkit ('Responding on Time') and produce an action plan based on the findings
  • Requesting details of the actions to be taken by the authority to improve their FOI performance, such as any revised procedures and management reporting
  • Monitoring the authority's progress towards a target outcome by viewing monthly performance reports and other evidence such as staff training and communications

The interventions are all at varying stages; progress is reported to the Commissioner's Quarterly Interventions Meeting, which may decide actions including escalation or closure.

Level 3 interventions

There was one Level 3 intervention active during 2020-21 - our ongoing intervention with the Scottish Government regarding their FOI performance and practice. A second Progress Report was published in September 2020, which considered the Government's actions and performance between 1 April 2019 and 31 May 2020. 

The report found significant progress had been made in 2019-20 but that resources were diverted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in a dramatic fall in the proportion of requests being responded to within statutory timescales. In the report, the Commissioner urged the Scottish Government to restore resources to its FOI function. Since the report's publication, performance has recovered somewhat, despite the Government receiving unprecedented numbers of FOI and EIR requests.

Read more about the Scottish Government intervention.

Level 4 interventions

There were no Level 4 interventions during 2020-21.

Download the full report

Interventions Activity Report 2020-21


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