Research reveals gaps in public sector publishing duties

4 September 2018

Research published today by the Scottish Information Commissioner reveals discrepancies in some public authorities' compliance with the duty to publish information under Freedom of Information (FOI) law.

FOI law requires authorities to proactively publish certain types of information to the public. Proactive publication is a critical tool for the public to hold public bodies to account, particularly in relation to decision-making, spending, procurement and contracts.

The research carried out on the Commissioner's behalf by Craigforth Ltd, involved a "mystery-shopping" exercise with a sample of 71 Scottish public bodies in March and April 2018.

The study specifically focused on the accessibility of each authority's Guide to Information, procurement information and decision-making information, as well as the provision of advice and assistance.

Researchers found the majority of Scottish public authorities are complying with their legal obligations to publish information, but not all do, and provision is not always consistent.

The findings show

  • The vast majority of authorities publish their Guides to Information online
  • Most authorities are not keeping their Guides up to date
  • Information on procurement and decision-making is not always easy to find

Daren Fitzhenry, Scottish Information Commissioner, said:

"It's positive to see the majority of authorities complying with FOI requirements, but our research also identified too many who are not meeting basic duties.

"While I am pleased that 94 per cent of authorities have a Guide to Information online, some of them are years out of date, and many have not kept up to date with revisions to the Model Publication Scheme.

"Despite the importance of openness and transparency, we have found patchy compliance with the need to make information about procurement or decisions easily available to the public.

"Proactive publishing is not only required by law, but is also good practice in terms of running efficient, open and transparent public authorities. It is vital in ensuring public trust and promoting citizen engagement in the public sector."

The Commissioner has responded initially to the findings by writing to public bodies across Scotland to inform them of the research findings. Where deficiencies are identified, authorities will be referred to guidance on meeting the publication duty, and the Commissioner will consider further action in light of the responses received.

The full report and raw data can be accessed at 


About the Research

The research was conducted by Craigforth Ltd, a social research company based in Stirling, Fieldwork was conducted between March and April 2018 and comprised:

  • A web-based audit of 71 public authority Guides to Information
  • Follow up telephone or email contact with 34 authorities

The research aimed to mirror as far as possible the experience of the average person trying to find information about public authorities. The exercise also provided a spot-check on how some authorities are performing when it comes to proactively publishing information.

A sample was selected from the over 330 authorities and publicly-owned companies that submit data to the Scottish Information Commissioner's statistics portal. The sample selection sought to include a mix of authorities in different sectors, to provide a broad cross-section of the bodies covered by freedom of information law. These included:

  • 4 Central government authorities
  • 10 Educational institutions
  • 18 Local government authorities
  • 11 NHS authorities
  • 13 Non departmental public bodies
  • 13 'Other' authorities
  • 1 Police Service of Scotland
  • 1 Scottish Parliament


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