Public support for freedom of information reaches all-time high

News Release: 11 December 2014


FOI is alive and well in Scotland but care must be taken that, after 10 years, rights to information keep pace with change and are not further eroded, the Scottish Information Commissioner will tell a conference to mark the upcoming 10th anniversary of FOI today [11 December].

Commissioner Rosemary Agnew will tell delegates at the Holyrood "10 Years of FOI" conference that a record 95% of the Scottish public thinks that the right to access information held by public authorities is important. The research, conducted by Ipsos MORI in October, also found that public awareness of FOI is at an all-time high of 84%, while just 8% of people feel that freedom of information (FOI) is a waste of public money.

Speaking on the eve of the conference, Rosemary Agnew said:

"2014 saw unprecedented levels of democratic engagement in Scotland, with individuals and communities from every part of the country taking part in discussions and debates exploring how we are governed. Crucial to democratic engagement is information. It is a credit to Scotland that the public's awareness of, and support for, information rights is at an all-time high. Access to information is one of a range of mechanisms through which citizens can engage with public bodies and hold them to account for their performance, their spending and their decision-making.

"I'm pleased to report that, as it approaches its 10th anniversary, Scottish FOI is in generally good health. Data from public authorities suggest that over 60,000 FOI requests were made in 2013/14, with more than 90% resulting all or some of the information being provided, and less than 1% being appealed to me. Put together, this all paints a picture of an FOI right that is known about, valued, and used.

"It's not all positive news though. At the same time as support for FOI has increased, real concerns have arisen that FOI rights are being lost as the delivery of public services changes and more services are provided by the private sector and others. For example, in the 10 years since FOI came into force, it is estimated that over 15,000 households in Scotland have lost information rights through the transfer of local authority stock to housing associations. It is a loss not only to the households themselves but to the public at large, calling to question whether such a vital service can truly be open and accountable. I am also not convinced that enough consideration has been given to extending the coverage of FOI to new areas.

"That is why I am preparing a Special Report for the Scottish Parliament to explore this important issue. My aim is for the Report to promote a constructive and grown-up debate about how we collectively ensure that rights keep pace with change, rather than fall increasingly behind."

The "10 Years of FOI" Conference will take place at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh today [11 December]. Other speakers reflecting on the 10th Anniversary of FOI will include Minister for Parliamentary Business Joe Fitzpatrick MSP, Lord Jim Wallace of Tankerness, who introduced the FOI Bill to Scottish Parliament, and UK Information Commissioner Christopher Graham.

The Commissioner's Special Report will be published in January 2015.


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