Celebrating International Right to Know Day, 28th September 2011
On International ‘Right to Know Day’, the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland is calling for the extension of people’s information rights.
Co-convenor Carole Ewart said: “We believe the public’s right to information should follow the money whether services are being delivered by the public, voluntary or private sectors. The forthcoming Scottish legislation must provide clarity by giving people an equal right to information not just from all public bodies but also from bodies providing public services under contract, rather than the current system whereby some bodies are covered and someare not.”
CFoI in S welcomes the Scottish Government announcement of a Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill in its Programme for Government 2011 – 2012 which is ‘Intended to add strength and clarity to the existing legislation’. CFoI in S points out that can only be achieved by a series of reforms including a comprehensive extension to FoISA and replicating progress announced at a UK level. The Westminster government is proposing to extend the UK FOI Act to other bodies including the Local Government Association, the NHS Confederation, the Law Society and the Bar Council. Their Scottish counterparts should be brought under FoISA, otherwise Scotland risks falling behind the UK.
CFoI in S remains concerned that new restrictions to the legislation may be introduced, such as further charges for information or measures allowing authorities to refuse more requests on cost grounds. When charges were introduced under Ireland’s FOI law a few years ago, there was an immediate 75% fall in the number of requests. Such measures should not be introduced in Scotland.
CFoI in S’s call for a progressive reform of FOISA was today supported by other organisations.
STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith said: “The STUC supports International Right to Know Day and welcomes measures to strengthen and clarify the existing legislation. The proposed changes to Scottish legislation must enhance, and not restrict, information so informed conclusions can be reached, particularly in relation to extending freedom of information to contractors and organisations providing services for the public sector”.
NUJ Scottish Organiser Paul Holleran said: “This is a really important issue for journalists and for the NUJ and we fully support the Campaign for Freedom of Information”.
Further CFoI in S calls on the Scottish Government to:
1. Extend the range of information published proactively to include all new Scottish government contracts and tender documents and any spending over £10,000 and all new local government contracts and tender documents and any spending over £500.
2. Make private contractors subject to FoISA. Transparency and openness should be part of doing business with the public sector. Trusts and other arms length organisations running public service facilities such as sports, leisure and cultural facilities, buildings, parking, transport, property, IT, finance and other support services, health, and social care should also be covered as should the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland.
3. Contractors responsible for contracts above certain values should be brought under the Act but the thresholds must be realistic and subject to debate and public consultation. These contractors would then be subject to FoISA in their own right.
4. Make all housing associations subject to FoISA so that tenants, and the public generally, have the right to access information. Such a change fits well with individual and community empowerment strategies. Housing associations are already covered by Data Protection and Health and Safety laws – regulatory laws that give individuals enforceable rights.
5. ‘No’ to increased charges for information, or changes that would make it easier for authorities to refuse requests on cost grounds.
Carole Ewart, co-convenor, Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland: (0141) 550 7519
1. The Campaign for Freedom of Information was established in 1984 to secure a legal right of access to information so that people could find out about how they are governed and how their services are delivered.
2. International Right to Know Day takes place on 28th September of every year.
3. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA) sets out the current legal framework.
4. The ‘Right to Know Day’ video was made by the global FOI advocates network and features contributors from 16 countrieswww.youtube.com/user/FOIAnet?feature=mhee
5. The Scottish Government announced a Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill in its programme for Government 2011-2012http://www.scotland.gov.uk/About/programme-for-government/2011-2012/FreedomofInformation