The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA) came into force ten years ago and gives people an enforceable right to access information held by certain bodies with devolved public functions in Scotland. For example councils, health boards and Universities. It is also 10 years since the introduction of the right to access information held by UK Government and public bodies such as the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
So what difference has the right made? Research, conducted by Ipsos MORI in October 2014 found that public awareness of FOI is at an all-time high of 84%, 95% of the Scottish public thinks that the right to access information held by public authorities is important while just 8% of people feel that freedom of information (FOI) is a waste of public money.
According to the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland the enforceable right has played a major part in informing the public about the state of public services. The Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, said: “The FOI Act has been responsible for a new generation of official data showing where standards of public services are falling short, regulators are failing to keep up and policies are not having the promised effect.” But the Campaign said that the increasing use of private contractors and others to deliver public services is weakening the public’s right to know. Now is the time for FoISA to be extended to a range of new bodies so that the public’s right to know remains robust and relevant to our lives and concerns.
There are numerous examples of how using this enforceable right has benefitted service users and staff alike, individuals and communities For example much of the home support provided to elderly or vulnerable people is supplied in short 15-minute visits commissioned from private providers. It is often impossible to provide the range of support people may need in this time, including help in getting out of bed, dressing, bathing, using the toilet and taking medicines. An FOI survey carried out by UNISON in 2013 found that 69% of English councils provided at least some of their care in 15 minute slots with 83% of Welsh authorities and 88% of Scottish councils doing so.
To read the Campaign’s press release in more detail go to http://www.cfoi.org.uk/2014/12/foi-act-celebrates-its-10th-anniversary-on-january-1/
The Scottish Information Commissioner enforces the right to access information and she has declared that ‘Access to information is one of a range of mechanisms through which citizens can engage with public bodies and hold them to account for their performance, their spending and their decision-making. Scottish FOI is in generally good health and is a right that is known about, valued, and used. Data from public authorities suggest that over 60,000 FOI requests were made in 2013/14, with more than 90% resulting all or some of the information being provided, and less than 1% being appealed to me.’
“It’s not all positive news though. At the same time as support for FOI has increased, real concerns have arisen that FOI rights are being lost as the delivery of public services changes. For example, in the 10 years since FOI came into force, it is estimated that over 15,000 households in Scotland have lost information rights through the transfer of local authority stock to housing associations. It is a loss not only to the households themselves but to the public at large, calling to question whether such a vital service can truly be open and accountable. I am also not convinced that enough consideration has been given to extending the coverage of FOI to new areas.
“That is why I am preparing a Special Report for the Scottish Parliament to explore this important issue. My aim is for the Report to promote a constructive and grown-up debate about how we collectively ensure that rights keep pace with change, rather than fall increasingly behind.”
The Commissioner’s Special Report will be published in January 2015.
For more information go to the OSIC website http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/News/20141211.aspx
The Scottish Government has announced that it will publish a consultation paper on the extension of FoISA to new bodies, and other matters, in Spring 2015. In the meantime you may want to check out the information it produces on FoI at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/About/Information/FOI
The latest Edition includes 13 articles including one from Neil Findlay setting out why he is standing for the leadership of Scottish Labour, the STUC’s submission to the Smith Commission, Book Reviews, letters and the regular ‘Vladimir McTavish’s Kick up the Tabloids’. http://www.scottishleftreview.org/
Comment on White Paper by Reid Foundation Director in the Daily Record
I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the Scottish Government’s White Paper. I am pleasantly surprised.
It proposes we should radically change economic policy to create a high-pay economy, make the primary purpose of government greater equality among citizens, place dignity and respect at the heart of welfare policy, renationalise Royal Mail, offer free childcare for every family, give employees a right to sit on the boards of their companies, see trade unions as a partner, remove nuclear weapons in four years, have a written constitution, end tax evasion by corporations, focus on growing Scottish industrial base and much more.
If a UK political party was offering this it would be called the most radical and people-focussed manifesto since the Atlee Government set up the welfare state and the NHS. Ed Milliband has been praised highly by some for offering much less.
What I was looking for was a promise that between a Yes vote and the first democratic election in 2016, the SNP wouldn’t behave like it had the right to design a new country all by itself. The paper promises we will all get to play a part in writing a constitution and that its opponents will be included in the negotiating team that agrees the deal we get when leaving the UK. So I am reassured.
That does not mean the Scottish Government has got everything right. It is wrong on cutting corporation tax, it is wrong on keeping the UK’s terrible banking regulation and in my opinion it is wrong to join NATO. But these are all issues that will only be decided after a democratic election so I and everyone else in Scotland will get to have a say about it.
Has it answered every question? Well, the thing is the size of a doorstep and a genuine effort has been made.
Will you be convinced? That’s up to you. The Scottish Government is in the position where if it tries to answer questions that have no definite answers it will be accused of lying and if it doesn’t it will be accused of hiding. With this report it is certainly not hiding.
And that is where Better Together looks weak to me. Alastair Darling has just been on TV suggesting that since he thinks Alex Salmond is a liar, no-one should trust him or his answers. But does Darling honestly think we trust him, that we’ll take his word for it?
I don’t think it’s going to be that easy. Whatever you think of it, this White Paper sets out a vision for a high-pay society with a strong welfare state. That is a leap forward from anything we’re being offered by the UK.
I and many other experts believe this vision is realistic. I don’t think shouting ‘liar’ will be enough to get Better Together off the hook if it rejects it.
If you want certainty, get a digital watch. If you want a better country, judge people on what they are offering.
Yesterday a big gulf opened up between the two futures we are being asked to choose between.
Will working people have enough confidence to jump that gulf and take a chance on a new future?
You’ve got about nine months to decide.
Nationalising Scotland’s oil is not a priority – stopping multinationals and their pals in the Treasury fleecing us again in the renewables field as they did in oil is: Robin McAlpine’s article from today’s Scotsman
Robin Hahnel and Gar Alperovitz are two of the major figures in the New Economic movement in the US. We are very lucky to have them writing on the Common Weal and Scotland’s economic future – from today’s Sunday Herald
A teaser from the Scottish Left Review which will be out next week. Jim Mather argues that the model of financialised capitalism has very clearly failed to address the ‘Common Weal’ either in terms of shared wealth or economy security. A new approach is needed.
We need a new economic philosophy, one where people come together for the benefit of all members of society – Scotsman article from today
My Scotsman article – Political leaders and their parties have to be told to stop parroting what the plutocrats want them to say and start doing what the people who elected them told them to
Belatedly – my piece in The Scotsman the Scottish Government economic paper: The SNP’s plan, while recognising some of what not to do, seems to include repeating the mistakes that caused the economic crisis in the first place
The response to a protest against an anti-immigration, xenophobic political party has been as hard to believe as it has been distorted. The impact on Scottish politics is alarming.