Tuesday, 10 January 2012

FOI must be safeguarded - Scottish Information Commissioner

Scotland's outgoing Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion has played a vital role in establishing a strong Freedom of Information regime.

In overseeing the successful implementation of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), he has made wide-ranging and important decisions backing the public's right to know.

Just one example, among many, is a number of key decisions on PFI/PPP, where the Commissioner ruled that information was wrongly withheld and should be made public.

His Special Report to the Scottish Parliament today makes recommendations for ensuring that FOI legislation is safeguarded.

The Scottish Government has failed to act on one of the most compelling of the Commissioner's long-argued points - that information rights should follow the public pound.

His report today emphasises that extending FOI legislation to cover private companies and other bodies that deliver public services is in many cases not an extension, but SAFEGUARDING rights that are being eroded.

Mr Dunion's report says, about designating additional public bodies to be subject to FOISA:

"...designation is not necessarily about extending rights to information, but safeguarding them. This is particularly true where services which were once supplied directly by public authorities covered by FOISA are now delivered by bodies which are not, such as: trusts established to deliver services on behalf of local authorities; those private contractors which provide health, educational and penal infrastructure and services to the public sector; and housing asssociations to which housing stock has been transferred from local authorities.

"Tenants, patients, parents, service users, voluntary organisations and indeed elected members lose the right to information when such a change in service delivery takes place."

Scotland is at risk of falling behind the UK FOI legislation in this area. The Scottish Government should think again about extending FOI to cover these bodies and, as recommended by Mr Dunion, should establish "a rolling programme of active review..so that designation can keep pace with changes in public service delivery."

See also the report in today's Herald Commissioner leaves with call for extra powers


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