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Action needed to protect FOI 20/01/2015 The Scottish Information Commissioner has warned that immediate steps must be taken to protect FOI rights when outsourcing public services.

Action needed to protect FOI

Scottish Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew has warned the Scottish Parliament that immediate steps must be taken to protect freedom of information (FOI) rights from the damage caused by the outsourcing of important public services.

The Commissioner made the warning in a Special Report to Parliament, laid on Friday (16th January). The Report explains that the provision to extend FOI to non-public sector organisations delivering public functions has been "woefully underused" in the ten years since FOI law came into effect, with the consequence that some public functions are no longer open to full public scrutiny.

The Commissioner's report reflects growing concern about the impact of changes in public sector delivery on information rights. For example, since 2005, over 15,000 Scottish households have lost FOI rights following the transfer of local authority housing stock to housing associations, and the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee is currently considering a call for FOI rights to apply to all housing associations.

While the Scottish Government has the power to extend FOI to third parties that provide public services, this power has only been used once in the last decade. This was in 2013 for the designation of local authority leisure and culture trusts.

The report recommends:

  • adopting a policy to ensure FOI rights are migrated whenever a body delivering public functions or services changes
  • carrying out a review to identify where FOI rights have been lost over the past decade, and reinstate them
  • taking steps to ensure that FOI rights apply to those bodies responsible for social housing and private prisons and
  • adopting a factor based approach to wider FOI designation, to ensure that FOI rights apply to bodies which are considered to be delivering functions of a public nature.

 

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