Freedom of Information

Information legislation in Scotland is now in its 6th year and this week, in the eye of the Wikileaks, storm Holyrood held its annual conference on the topic. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) introduced a public right to access information held by public authorities and  more proactive publication of information.

During the day, discussion focused on how the legislation is affecting decision making across all public authorities, the relationship between the FOISA and the Data Protection Act, and evaluation of the systems in place to handle complaints and FOI requests for review. A pre-conference survey had suggested that around three quarters of those asked expect the general public to make more use of their right to information under FOISA as spending cuts take effect in Scotland. So the big  concern of the Conference was whether budget cuts were likely to affect ability to deliver on the statutory requirements of  FOI(S)A . 

There was some support within the audience for a revised fees regime to offset the costs of fulfilling enquiries but Policy Adviser Nat O’Connor from the Dublin based think tank TASC pointed out that introduction of a fees regime in Ireland had acted as a deterrent on the number of requests and that anyways there were additional costs to administering a fees regime.

Recently the Scottish Government concluded a period of consultation into extending the remit of the Act. Seventy two responses were received  showing support for transparency and FOISA in general as an essential part of open, democratic government. An initial report summary has been published by the Scottish Government  together will all the consultation responses. with a view to introducing an amendment Bill after the 2011 elections to the Scottish Parliament.

Scotland’s Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion,  suggested that one way of meeting the challenge of economic constraints was for authorities to take a ‘customer service’ approach to FOI(S)A and proactively publish more information.  Performance across Scotland was variable but there were lots of examples of good practice approaches that authorities could learn from.

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