Organisations flout outdated FOI rules according to new research

Calum Liddle

New research has suggested freedom of information laws are “past their sell-by date” because institutions either ignore them or claim the law does not apply to them.

The laws allow members of the public to obtain official information from public authorities but a study conducted by a researcher at Strathclyde University has found that new bodies covered by the laws are not disclosing requested information.

Calum Liddle, who undertook the study, also criticised the Scottish government for failing to strengthen the laws over the past decade.

Two years ago Scottish ministers increased the number of organisations of whom FOI requests can be made to include external arm’s length organisations – meaning leisure, sports and cultural trusts established by councils.

However, Mr Liddle’s study found some of the trusts failed to provide information or stated that the law does not cover them.

Mr Liddle made FOI requests of a number of trusts.

Five did not respond within the time limit of 20 working days.

Pickaquoy Centre Trust in Orkney took 99 working days to respond while Live Active Leisure in Perth took 94 days.

Four of the trusts queried lacked publication schemes for the public to view, which is in breach of the FOI rules.

One body claimed FOI rules did not apply to it as it was established in part by a public body itself not subject to the rules.

Mr Liddle said: “There is blame to be placed on two groups.

“One is the councils for surrendering public services to arm’s-length organisations but not obliging those companies to have transparency mechanisms in place.

“The second group is the Scottish government. There have been too few – and far too weak – revisions to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, which is 10 years old.

“These results demonstrate that Scotland’s FOI regime is past its sell-by date. It is in urgent need of revision. We have to hold these arm’s-length companies to account.”

Spokesman for the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland, Chris Bartter, added: “The problems and loopholes thrown up by this research identify the reason why we should change our approach to FOI.

“We must ensure all public services are covered, no matter who delivers them – public or private sector, partnerships or voluntary bodies.”

Scottish Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew said: “Information about public functions and services, including those delivered by Aleos, should be freely accessible by all if Scotland is to demonstrate its openness and accountability in the way it serves citizens.”

A spokesman for the Scottish government said: “We regularly review the effectiveness of Scotland’s FOI law.”