Government confirms plans to extend freedom of information reach
Ministers will bring various organisations under scope of FOI legislation from September this year
Scottish Government ministers have confirmed plans to broaden the scope of freedom of information laws later this year.
Contractors who run Scotland's two private prisons at Addiewell and Kilmarnock will be subject to FOI requests from September, as will providers of secure accommodation for children, grant-aided schools and independent special schools.
The announcement comes almost a year to the day since Scottish Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew claimed powers to extend FOI to non-public sector bodies delivering public services as a result of outsourcing had been “woefully underused”.
The government also looks set to give into pressure to include housing associations after acknowledging there are “persuasive arguments favouring extension” to registered social landlords (RSLs). A full consultation on the proposal will take place this year.
Ministers have the power to extend FOI to third parties providing public services under Section 5 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, though have only done so once to encompass bodies providing culture and leisure services on behalf of local authorities.
A consultation was launched in June last year on extending coverage to four separate types of organisation. Implementation will now go ahead five months after originally planned due to concerns about rushed timescales. Ministers also intend to relax a requirement to respond to requests within 20 working days for “certain bodies in certain circumstances”.
Agnew said: “We are pleased about the further extension of FOI, and hope this current order is simply the next in a series.
“Extension to these organisations will give the public a right to information about performance, standards and how public money is spent. It will also place a duty on organisations to publish information proactively.
“Over the coming months we’ll be working with the organisations to help them prepare for their new responsibilities, to ensure that they are ready by the September deadline.”
Though ministers initially said they were not “persuaded of the merits” of extending coverage to housing associations, views were sought on which other bodies should be brought under FOI as part of the recent consultation.
A “considerable number” of responses backed a petition currently before Holyrood requesting that housing associations fall under the Act, while the Scottish Information Commissioner has pressed for the move to be made.
“Given this combination of factors we are now of the view that there are persuasive arguments favouring extension of coverage of FOISA to registered social landlords and that the sector should be formally consulted in order to fully explore the issues involved and consider which of their functions should be subject to FOISA,” said the Scottish Government in its response.
“We therefore propose to consult the RSL sector in tandem with this year’s review of the Scottish Social Housing Charter.”
Since the FOI Act came into force in 2005, over 15,000 Scottish households have lost FOI rights following the transfer of local authority housing stock to housing associations, according to the Scottish Information Commissioner.
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