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Commissioner calls for FOI rights to be strengthened as survey reveals strong public support

Friday 16 December

Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion will today (16 December 2011) call on the Scottish Government to strengthen and extend Scotland's freedom of information (FOI) rights, in the wake of new research revealing that 91% of the Scottish public view FOI as an important way to hold public bodies to account for their spending decisions, and over 80% want FOI extended to cover other bodies that provide public services.

The Commissioner, who will be delivering his final keynote address to the Annual Holyrood Freedom of Information Conference, will also warn against changes which might limit the public's access to information, in light of evidence that being charged for information would deter 64% of people from making an FOI request.

Speaking on the eve of the conference, Kevin Dunion said:

"Freedom of information has been a success story in Scotland, and public awareness of the law is at an all time high. However, there are clearly a number of areas where the law would benefit from further clarification and enhancement, and we await the Scottish Government's proposals.

More generally, I have long called for FOI to be extended to a greater range of organisations, particularly in light of the loss of rights that occurs from changes in the way that public services are delivered. We are in danger of falling behind the rest of the UK where, unlike Scotland, designation of bodies such as the Association of Chief Police Officers has already taken place. Furthermore, the Westminster Government has indicated its intention to designate many more bodies including the Law Society and the Local Government Association.

He added:

"Where amendments to the law are being considered we must be extremely cautious about any suggestion that the FOI right should be restricted, for example through wider exemptions or the introduction of increased fees for requesters. We know from the experience overseas that this can have a very damaging effect on the public's uptake of FOI. The research published today shows that a significant proportion of the Scottish public - 64% - believe they would be put off making an FOI request if they had to pay to receive the information, and this figure is even higher among more vulnerable groups, such as young people and the unemployed."

The research, which was carried out by Ipsos MORI in December 2011, also reveals that:

  • awareness of FOI is at its highest level, with 80% of respondents stating that they were aware of the law, compared to 76% during the previous wave in 2009
  • 89% of respondents agree that it is important for the public to be able to access information held by public authorities
  • even in straitened times for the public sector, 77% disagreed with the suggestion that FOI was a waste of public money, with only 14% agreeing
  • there is strong public support for FOI to be extended to cover additional organisations, with:
    • 88% agreeing that trusts providing services on behalf of local authorities should be covered
    • 82% agreeing that housing associations should be covered
    • 83% agreeing that private sector companies who build and maintain local authority schools or hospitals should be covered
    • 73% agreeing that prisons which are run by the private sector should be covered.

The Commissioner will address the conference alongside Minister for Parliamentary Business Brian Adam MSP, former Deputy First Minister Lord Jim Wallace of Tankerness, and Maurice Frankel, Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information in the UK.

The full survey results are available to download below.

ENDS

For further information contact the Commissioner's Media Team on 01334 464610, out of hours on 07976 511752, or email media@itspublicknowledge.info

 

Notes to Editors

About the research:

  • The research was undertaken as part of Ipsos MORI's Scottish Public Opinion Monitor, a telephone survey of 1,001 members of the public. Fieldwork was undertaken between 1 December and 4 December 2011.
  • 64% of respondents agreed that they would be put off making an FOI request if they had to pay for the information. For respondents who described themselves as "not working" this figure was 70%, while it was 80% for respondents aged 18-24.
  • The research findings are available to download here:

Word Document IPSOS Mori Public Awareness Results - December 2011

PDF iconIPSOS Mori Public Awareness Full Data - December 2011

About the Conference:

  • The Conference is the 9th Annual Holyrood Freedom of Information Scotland Conference.The 2011 Conference is subtitled 'A Time of Change'.
  • The Conference will take place on Friday 16 December at the Royal College of Surgeons, Quincentenary Hall, Edinburgh.
  • The full conference programme is available at: www.holyrood.com/foi.

About the Scottish Government consultation:

  • In September the Scottish Government's Programme for Government 2011-2012 included a Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, which is intended to add strength and clarity to the FOI legislation.
  • The Government has announced its intention to publish a consultation paper on the Amendment Bill today (Friday 16 December 2011).

About the Commissioner:

  • Kevin Dunion was appointed as the first Scottish Information Commissioner in February 2003. In February 2008 he was reappointed for a second, and final term. He will demit office at the end of February 2012.
  • The Commissioner is responsible for enforcing and promoting Scotland's freedom of information laws.
  • In January 2012, the Commissioner plans to lay a Special Report before the Scottish Parliament. The report will set out the Commissioner's views on the current state of Freedom of Information in Scotland.
  • Find out more about his work and FOI generally at www.itspublicknowledge.info.

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