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Scotland

‘Get it Minuted Campaign’ launched

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) is launching a ‘Get it Minuted’ Campaign and is calling on people and organisations to ask and insist that there are agendas, notes and minutes for any meetings with the Scottish Government. The two actions which can be taken up by the public across Scotland as well as organisations, staff members, volunteers, those who govern and those who manage, are:

  • People and organisations should ask and insist that there are agendas, notes and minutes for any meetings they participate in with the Scottish Government. This will help organisations too as it stops them going around in circles repeatedly discussing the same matters at meetings.
  • Add your voice to the call that all meetings must be minuted or a ‘note’ taken. By changing culture and practice, recording discussions and decisions at all meetings will be understood as an obligation of good government which cannot be ignored.

The Campaign is launched in response to concerns that the Scottish Government is undermining transparency and accountability by failing to issue agendas and take notes and minutes of meetings with a range of external parties. Organisations that have already signed up to the Campaign include UNISON Scotland and the Scottish Council on Deafness.

The Campaign is launched as CFoIS publishes its report on Scottish Government ‘Minute Taking’. The report concludes that on a day to day basis the spread of guidance is unhelpful. The language on who is responsible for note and minute taking creates loopholes which, without a committed culture of openness, can be exploited. Consequently, there is a negative impact on transparency and accountability. The loopholes must be plugged so that the process matches the purpose, which is to provide a record of who was there, what was discussed, what was agreed and actions to be taken by whom and when. Minutes provide the context to policy, funding and service decisions.

The report also highlights that over six months after the Scottish Parliament unanimously agreed to an independent inquiry into the way that the Scottish Government deals with FoI requests and to undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2002 (FoISA), neither inquiry has started.

Carole Ewart, Convener of CFoIS said today:
“‘Get it Minuted’ is launched as our contribution to the UN’s year-long campaign to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 includes the ‘right to access information’ so it is useful to remember that we are still trying to make that right effective in Scotland today. The UN is calling on people to ‘Stand up for Human Rights’ with a gain for individuals as well as their families and communities. That’s why we want people and organisations to insist that all meetings with the Scottish Government are minuted or at least a note is published.”

Dave Watson, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland, said:
“We have been concerned for some time about cases of Freedom of Information requests about some Scottish Government meetings getting nowhere because it seems there were no minutes taken and no other paperwork available.

The Get It Minuted campaign is very important. We hope that the Scottish Government takes action immediately, but in the meantime we will be calling for proper records of all meetings. Transparency is essential for the human right to access information.”

Janis McDonald, Chief Executive of the Scottish Council on Deafness said:
“Producing a written record for people to easily access and read is the gateway to understanding what is going on for many people, including those who are deaf and hard of hearing. The Scottish Council on Deafness (SCoD) recognises that open government, effective engagement and equal empowerment need to be underpinned by consistently applied rules on principles of communication which meet the needs of Scotland’s diverse population. SCoD supports the ‘Get it Minuted’ campaign as a way for the Scottish Government and public sector generally to better engage with deaf and hard of hearing people.”

For further information please contact: Carole Ewart cfoiscot@gmail.com

Notes
1. The report on Minute Taking can be downloaded here.
2. The theme for International Human Rights Day was launched by the UN on 10th December 2017. Go to http://www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday/
3. Article 19: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
4. The Scottish Parliament motion was passed on 21st June 2017 and is available on its website at http://www.parliament.scot/Chamber_Minutes_20170621.pdf
5. CFoIS 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. We have been involved in all the major developments of the legislation at the Scottish level. Go to our website for more information https://www.cfoi.org.uk/scotland/

Freedom of Information – A Journalist’s Perspective

Monday 11th December, 17:30 – 19:30
Albany Learning Centre, 44 Ashley Street, Glasgow G3 6DS

Martin Rosenbaum, a freedom of information specialist for BBC News, will deliver a lecture to mark International Human Rights Day. The Lecture is co-hosted by the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland and GCVS. Entry is free but by ticket only.

Please register via Eventbrite.

Report on International Conference of Information Commissioners 2017

Report by Chris Bartter of the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland summarising the discussions which took place at the International Conference of Information Commissioners in Manchester, 19-21 September 2017. The report was presented to the Scottish Public Information Forum on 28 September 2017.

Concerns over potential FOI inquiry to feature in ‘Right to Know Day’ meeting

A second meeting of the newly revived Scottish Public Information Forum (SPIF) takes place in Glasgow on International Right to Know Day (28 September) and will discuss concerns about the way Scotland’s political leaders are likely to interpret calls for inquiries and reviews of the FOI regime.

The SPIF, revived by the Campaign for information in Scotland (CFoIS) is joining forces with the Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector (GCVS) to host this event, aiming to raise awareness amongst community organisations, services and individuals of their ¨Right to Know”.
Read More

Minutes of SPIF Meeting Friday 12th May 2017

The minutes of the Scottish Public Information Forum Meeting on Friday 12th May are available here. The next meeting will be held on 28th September 2017 in Glasgow.

Campaign Calls for Speedy Reform at the Scottish Parliament

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) today welcomed the report of the Scottish Commission for Parliamentary Reform [1] but urged prompt action to require the Parliament to become more open, accessible and accountable in line with its founding principles.

CFoIS submitted evidence to the Commission and made FoI requests to check out how the parliament is operating. CFoIS has drawn up five areas for targeted action following the Commission’s report underpinned by the conclusion that the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA) requires reform to enable the public, NGOs, journalists and bloggers to find out how they are being governed and to effectively hold politicians to account.

  • Monitoring and Evaluating the Parliament – In response to a CFoIS FoI request asking for a breakdown of how often individual committees have met in private since 1999, we were advised that comparative statistical information is not gathered. Instead we were directed to visit the National Library of Scotland for statistics before 2009 and examine online reports after that. Therefore, CFoIS agrees with the Commission’s recommendation that ‘More effective monitoring and evaluation of the work of the Parliament’ is essential and we are perplexed that this culture and practice was allowed to develop.
  • Need for Post Legislative Scrutiny – FoISA was passed in 2002 but its effectiveness has been diminished because it increasingly covers fewer bodies that are delivering public services or services of a public nature eg those which are delivered by the Third Sector in health and social care. Promises made in 2002, for example that housing associations would be covered, have still not been honoured with the latest prediction being April 2018 but the absence of a firm announcement is causing suspicion about yet further delays. Therefore, CFoIS welcomes the Commission’s recommendation for ‘An enhanced legislative scrutiny process with mandatory pre- and post-legislative scrutiny’ so that legislation is regularly reviewed for impact and effectiveness.
  • Holding Government to account – The Scottish Government must report on its use of Section 5 powers of FoISA on or before Tuesday 31st October 2017 [2] and that report will include an indication of any intention to exercise the power to designate bodies for coverage in the future. The Scottish Government’s report must result in concrete, progressive action. Additionally, the Scottish Parliament must have its own ideas about what categories or named bodies it believes should be added to FoISA eg RSLs and their 148 subsidiaries, all arms-length external organisations (ALEOs) [3], professional associations undertaking a regulatory function eg the Law Society of Scotland, a strategic function such as CoSLA, and many private companies delivering services of a public nature eg health and social care and road maintenance. Therefore CFoIS welcomes the Commission’s recommendation for ‘More flexibility and spontaneity in the business of the chamber, improving opportunities for participation in debates and increasing ministerial accountability.’
  • Stronger information access rights for MSPs – CFoIS believes that MSPs need to have access to better information to make informed decisions. For example, currently MSPs are not permitted to see the Scottish Parliament’s full legal advice on the impact of Bills on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) yet MSPs can only pass Bills which are ECHR compliant. Currently they receive only an edited version that confirms the Bill is compliant despite the subsequent parliamentary process often involving submissions from civil society organisations claiming ECHR issues have not been addressed. CFoIS knows from FoI requests that there is no routine system to update and brief MSPs on cases decided at the European Court of Human Rights that may impact on the business of the Scottish Parliament. This gap in information and the consequent silencing of debate is unhelpful. Therefore, CFoIS welcomes the Commission’s proposal for ‘An enhanced role for individual MSPs to influence, and contribute to, parliamentary business and encouraged to be parliamentarians first.’ However, for this recommendation to be effective requires increased information rights for MSPs.
  • Shortage of money stifles effective engagement and creates conflicts of interest – At a recent Scottish Public Information Forum meeting it was reported that there is some evidence that civil society organisations who receive the public pound through contracts or grant funding are discouraged from making FoI requests because ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you’. CFoIS acknowledges that it is very important for the Parliament to engage with people however the Third Sector needs to be funded to be independent and to exercise their independent voice without fear of retribution from the public services that fund them. For the Commission’s recommendations to be realised requires a variety of reforms for Scotland to ‘become a leader in public engagement, experimenting with new ways to gather views and evidence and opening more opportunities for people to become involved, where they want and how they want’, as well as the ‘creation of a Committee Engagement Unit.’

Carole Ewart, Convener of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said:
“The Commission makes important recommendations that need to be delivered soon. Fundamental to the reform are the updating of our information access rights so that MSPs, journalists, civil society organisation and the public in general can hold the Parliament to account. At a time when fake news has been exposed as skewing decisions and misleading people, there has never been a greater need for the publication of information so that better decisions are made about public spending, delivery of public services and crafting policy. Whether you are an MSP, a charity or a member of the public, you need to be able to access and rely on good quality information so that you can do your job, serve your community and participate in public affairs.”

Notes
[1] CFoIS submitted evidence to the Commission which is acknowledged on page 97 ref no: CPR095. The Commissions’ report is available here.
[2] Required by the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Scotland Act 2013 available at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2013/2/2013-05-31
[3] The Scottish Charity Regulator reported there are 68 ALEOs that are also charities. Some ALEOs are already covered voluntarily such as Glasgow Life, or via legislation such as ‘Culture and Leisure Trusts’.

Further information:
Carole Ewart, Convener CFoIS, 07768 794 689 or cfoiscot@gmail.com

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) 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. We have been involved in all the major developments of the legislation both at UK and Scottish levels. CFoIS is independent of government and relies on donations and income generated through training. For more information on our work go to https://www.cfoi.org.uk/scotland/

Scottish Public Information Forum meeting 12 May 2017

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) is convening a ‘Scottish Public Information Forum’ (SPIF) meeting on Friday 12th May in Edinburgh. The meeting is supported by UNISON Scotland. The purpose is to understand the ‘access to information’ right as it operates now in Scotland, hear the views of the providers of information as well as serve as an opportunity to hear the practical experiences of those who ask for information.

Further details in the attached flyer.

Government FOI forum recalled by Campaign

A Forum set up by the Scottish Government, but which hasn’t met for over six years is to be reconvened in Edinburgh this Friday by the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) it was announced today. The recall meeting is supported by UNISONScotland, and features contributions from the Acting Scottish Information Commissioner, Margaret Keyse, and Alison Mackinnon, Information manager from SEPA who will discuss experiences of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA)

Carole Ewart, Convener of CFoIS said“The CFoIS wants to recall the SPIF to discuss threats and developments to Scotland’s FOI landscape. We’ve managed to recreate the unique character of the SPIF, bringing together regulators, providers and requesters and acting as a sounding board, sharing experiences, good practice and discussing progress.”

The Scottish Public Information Forum (SPIF), which has gone through several incarnations since originally formed to discuss the implementation of FoISA, was meant to ‘enable the long-term effectiveness of FoISA and the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004. It’s papers are still listed on the Scottish Government website, although the home page for the forum has been deleted. Intended to continue as a ‘virtual’ forum’, it is still listed in the Scottish Government’s Six FoI Principles. It last met in 2010.

Dave Watson, UNISON’s Scottish Head of Policy and Public Affairs said: “As a major user of FoI to ensure we have the information we need to defend services and the members who provide them, and as a union representing many of the workers who provide that information, means we are uniquely qualified to speak up about our concerns. Public services are increasingly being run by the private sector, voluntary bodies and arms-length companies most of whom are not covered by the Act.”

The Forum will also discuss the increasing focus on proactive publication of information – does this pose an advance or a threat to information rights? European Court of Human Rights decisions may also impact on people’s right to information, and recent cases will be discussed.

Further information:

Registration for the SPIF meeting on Friday 12th May is free, via Eventbrite. The agenda and further organisational details are listed there too.

Inquiry needed to check if Parliament’s ‘openness’ principle still applies

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) has called for an inquiry into the delivery of information rights in Scotland.

In a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Independent Commission on Parliamentary Reform,
CFoIS says the inquiry should focus on delivering openness across the public services, as well as the practical delivery of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA) and the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004. Evidence should be sought from those with experience of trying to access information to make a realistic assessment of what changes are needed in culture, law and practice.

Carole Ewart, Convener of the CFoIS said:
“The Scottish Parliament passed freedom of information legislation 15 years ago, so it is timely to have a review of whether the right remains robust or has been diminished. Case decisions and anecdotal evidence suggest there are problems with levels of organisational openness, failures to respond within deadlines, and the increasing number of organisations that deliver public services but which operate outside the scrutiny afforded by FoISA.”

CFoIS recognises that the drive for openness in the Parliament and across the 10,000 organisations that it funds and scrutinises, comes from founding principles, especially that the Parliament should be ‘open, accessible and accountable’. As access to information is a human right, we need an audit of whether our legislation is fit for purpose. This should include, recent jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to fit Scotland and learning from the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Access to Information.

Given the popularity of enforceable access to information rights with the public in Scotland, it is right that the Scottish Parliament listens and ensures that the right remains robust.

The CFoIS is currently carrying out its own research into access to information and further findings will be made to the Independent Commission and the public as they become available.

For further information, please contact:
Chris Bartter 07715 583 729 or Carole Ewart.

Response to consultation on extending FOISA to registered social landlords

Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland response to the Scottish Government consultation ‘Extending Coverage of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 to Registered Social Landlords’.