Public authorities: are they ready for Freedom of Information?

The 2nd Wave Survey of Scottish Public Authorities on Preparation for the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Research reveals authorities need to do more for freedom of information

Research published today [20th December] reveals that, while the majority of public authorities in Scotland are confident of their ability to comply with freedom of information (FOI), there remain some important areas where work is required if authorities are to fully meet the obligations that the new legislation places on them.

The study, commissioned by the Scottish Information Commissioner, measures the preparedness of public authorities for the Freedom of Information ( Scotland ) Act, which comes into force on 1st January. Once in force, the Act will require public authorities to respond to every written request for information they receive within 20 working days. The findings from the study were compared with those from earlier research which was published in March.

The findings reveal that:

  • Authorities continue to view the Act positively as the implementation deadline approaches, with 88% now indicating that it will have a positive effect on their organisation, compared with 83% in the first wave.
  • 92% of authorities are either 'fairly' or 'very' confident of their ability to comply with the legislation.
  • Some authorities lack of confidence in relation to specific areas. While authorities are generally confident of their ability to retrieve information stored on paper files in response to requests, 28% of respondents expressed a lack of confidence in their ability to retrieve information stored in email. This proportion has increased by 5% since March, suggesting that authorities are becoming less confident of their ability to retrieve email information as the implementation deadline approaches.
  • Primary care providers (GPs, dentists, opticians and pharmacists) are the least prepared for the legislation out of all the groups survey ed, and have the most work to do if they are to fully comply with their obligations under the Act. Only 56% indicate that they will have the systems in place to comply with the legislation by 1st January, while 92% have made either no or minimal change in their internal operation in preparation for FOI.
  • In the first wave of research, 90% of authorities indicated that they had delivered, or intended to deliver, training to staff.  In the second wave, only 30% have actually delivered training on FOI, although almost all others, 63%, say that they still intend to do so. 
  • Authorities are less well prepared for the introduction of the revised Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations, which govern access to environmental information.

Kevin Dunion, The Scottish Information Commissioner, said:

"Freedom of information is going to make a significant difference to the way that Scottish authorities deal with information requests from the public. There can be no business as usual after January 1st . Our research results are encouraging, showing that most authorities have a positive attitude towards their obligations and are taking steps to improve their systems and to train their staff. But we are also aware that some sectors are less than enthusiastic about the new right to know or have underestimated the challenge.  The ultimate test of whether enough has been done will come when people exercise their new rights in the New Year."

View the findings of the survey here:

Freedom of Information Survey Results (PDF - 1.2 MB)

View the questionnaire here:

Freedom of Information Survey Questionnaire (PDF - 296 KB)

About the Research

  • The 2nd Wave Survey of Scottish Public Authorities on Preparation for the Freedom of Information ( Scotland ) Act 2002 was carried out by Craigforth Consultancy and Research, on behalf of the Scottish Information Commissioner.
  • The research was commissioned as a follow up to an earlier benchmark study, published in March 2004. Results from the second wave survey were compared with those from the first.
  • The study took the form of a self-completion questionnaire and a follow up interview.
  • In the second wave, 228 responses were received from representatives of Scottish public authorities. 27 follow-up interviews were carried out with respondents.
  • The fieldwork for the second wave survey was carried out during October and November 2004.

Research - Other Findings

  • 65% of authorities had yet to undertake a review of their procedures for drafting contracts to ensure that they were FOI compliant. Of the 35% that have undertaken a review, 85% intend to amend these procedures.
  • The education sector, which was comparatively pessimistic about FOI in wave 1, now appears to have addressed its concerns. In wave 1, 50% of respondents from this sector felt that the legislation would have a negative impact. This had decreased to 11% in the responses to this research.
  • As well as indicating that they were least prepared for the legislation, primary care providers also gave the most negative responses when asked about their attitudes to FOI. 36% of respondents thought it would have no impact, while a further 36% anticipated a negative impact.
  • Publicly-owned companies reported that they were reasonably well prepared for the legislation, with all companies surveyed indicating that they were confident of having the systems in place to comply by 1st January.
  • Authorities with a nominated person with responsibility for FOI are more confident of their ability to comply with the legislation.

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