Impact of Covid-19 on FOI in Scotland

Special Report - December 2020

 

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Impact of Covid-19 on FOI in Scotland

Since temporary emergency changes were made to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 in April and May 2020, the Scottish Information Commissioner has monitored their impact closely. In this initial special report on the impact of Covid-19 on freedom of information in Scotland, the Commissioner highlights that: 

  • The pandemic has caused delays to some responses to information requests since March 2020, but the impact on FOI in Scotland does not appear to be as significant as some may have feared. Emergency legislation temporarily extended the maximum timescale for responding to FOI requests and reviews from 20 to 60 working days. While relied on in a number of cases, this did not become the norm. 
  • Public authorities have generally taken a proactive approach to publication of information about the pandemic and their responses to it. This may, to some extent, have contributed to the reduction in request volumes seen earlier in 2020. This highlights the importance of communicating clearly about change, and the role that a modernised proactive publication duty (which focuses on the public interest in information being swiftly and proactively published) should have in the future.
  • Reallocation of FOI resources has been the most common pandemic-related cause of delays to FOI responses, and this underlines the importance of properly resourcing the FOI function. Authorities must continue to focus on the need to respond promptly to requests, whatever the maximum timescale in force at the time the request was handled, as a number of the Commissioner’s enforcement decisions made to date have highlighted. Those authorities which have deprioritised their FOI function risk damaging not only their FOI performance, but also the corresponding public trust in their organisations if these structures and resource are not restored. 
  • The Commissioner anticipates that the pandemic will continue to have an impact on FOI practice for some time yet. However, any deprioritising of authorities’ internal FOI infrastructure which has taken place must be undone if good FOI performance is to be sustained, and it is essential that any authorities which have not already reinstated their FOI function do so now.

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Special Report survey data (xlsx)

Special Report survey data (csv)

 

Further information

Read the report in full and contact the Commissioner’s team for further information, copies in alternative formats or to discuss the findings.

For more information about the emergency changes to the law as a result of the pandemic, visit the Covid-19 and FOI information hub; and to stay up to date with the latest FOI news in Scotland, sign up to the Commissioner's OpenUpdate newsletter.

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