SNP accused of ‘systematic avoidance of scrutiny’ in government
Only one SNP MSP contributes to debate calling for inquiry into FOI practice
Neil Findlay - Parliament
The Scottish Government was accused of avoiding scrutiny last night, as SNP MSPs declined to take part in a debate on Freedom of Information (FoI) requests.
The debate, led by Labour’s Neil Findlay, followed an open letter from a wide spectrum of broadcast and newspaper journalists raising concerns about the way Freedom of Information requests were being handled.
Requests for information and data, journalists from the BBC, STV, newspapers and Commonspace among others said, are often screened by special advisers to minimise political damage.
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There has also been examples of insufficient records of meetings and discussions in government, the letter claimed.
Findlay said no agenda or minutes were taken during recent meetings during Education Secretary John Swinney’s recent intervention in the college lecturers’ strike.
He added that independent reviews were exempt from FoI requests, even though the Scottish Government provides the secretariat and holds minutes of meetings.
“Scotland is not a pioneer in open government; it is a country in which there is systematic avoidance of scrutiny and accountability from the highest level down,” he said.
Findlay’s motion was signed by MSPs from Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens.
Minister for parliamentary business Joe Fitzpatrick said 76 per cent of FoI requests were dealt with in the required timescale, but that the volume of requests had “increased substantially”.
“I will engage with the NUJ to try to understand its particular concerns, because, as I have said, the role that journalists play in a democracy is important and I need to recognise that,” he said.
Scottish Conservative MSP Edward Mountain said: “Surely, the minister accepts that, if we got specific answers to freedom of information requests, there would not be quite so many of them.”
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