Public favours extension of Freedom of Information rights

10 December 2008

Research published by the Scottish Information Commissioner reveals that over two thirds of the Scottish population favour extending Scotland's freedom of information (FOI) laws to cover organisations other than public authorities, such as housing associations and privately run prisons.

The research, which was undertaken by Progressive Scottish Opinion as part of the Commissioner's annual public awareness survey, found that 66% of people favoured extending the FOI 'right to information' to prisons run by the private sector. This figure rose to 69% for housing associations, 73% for trusts providing local authority health and leisure services, 75% for private organisations that build and maintain local authority schools, and 79% for those that build and maintain NHS hospitals.

The extension of FOI is currently under consideration by the Scottish Government, which published a discussion paper on the matter in November.

Launching the research report, Kevin Dunion said:

"Our research reveals that the Scottish public is broadly in favour of bringing additional bodies that provide public services within the scope of freedom of information law. The responsibility of delivering public services is increasingly being transferred to those outwith the public sector, and there is growing concern that this transfer is leading to an erosion of the public's rights to the information which matters to them on the operational delivery of health, housing, and leisure services. Our study shows that members of the public value their rights to information, with 67% reporting that FOI is useful to them. It is therefore vital that we look at ways in which these rights can be safeguarded within this changing public service landscape."

Other findings of the research

  • 78% of respondents reported that they are aware of FOI. This represents a 34% increase since the research began in 2004.
  • The number of people who believe that Scotland's public authorities are becoming more open has decreased to 59%, from 64% in 2007. Conversely, the number of people who feel that FOI is useful to them has increased, from 62% in 2007 to 67% in 2008.
  • People with disabilities continue to have lower levels of awareness of their FOI rights that those without disabilities.
  • The number of people who have submitted an FOI request to a public authority has remained static since 2007, at 9%.
  • Awareness of the Scottish Information Commissioner has increased to 21% from 14% in 2007.
  • There remains some confusion amongst respondents between the right to general information under the FOI legislation, and the right to their own personal information under the Data Protection Act 1998.

Download the 2008 research report and data sets

Public Awareness Research Report 2008 (PDF - 242KB)

Public Awareness Research Report 2008 - Data Sets (PDF - 223KB)

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