Last week the Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, published her annual report for 2015/16. Ms Agnew enforces the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA).
The report reveals that:
- 540 appeals were made to the Commissioner in 2015/16. This is a 14% increase on last year, but is down from 578 appeals two years ago.
- The number of “failure to respond” appeals fell significantly in 2015/16. The Commissioner accepted 61 “failure to respond” cases for investigation. This was 16% of her investigation caseload – a significant reduction on the 25% three years ago.
- Appeals volumes fell for some sectors. Most notably for the Scottish Government and its agencies, where appeals fell from 23% of the Commissioner’s caseload in 2014/15 to 15% this year (from 111 appeals to 84).
- Appeal volumes increased for others. Appeals in relation to non-departmental public bodies increased, from 6% of the Commissioner’s caseload in 2014/15 to 10% this year. This was largely due to an increase in Scottish Fire and Rescue Service appeals, from 1 in 2014/15 to 12 this year.There was also a significant increase in appeals about requests made to Police Scotland. They rose from 9% of appeals last year to 15% in 2015/16 (from 45 to 81 appeals). 3% of Police Scotland’s information requests resulted in an appeal, compared to a national average of 0.8%.
- 61% of appeals came from members of the public. The media accounted for 20% of appeals, and prisoners 7%.
- 60% of the Commissioner’s decisions found wholly or partially in the requester’s favour. If an authority has incorrectly withheld information, the Commissioner’s decision will require it to be released.
- 73% of cases were resolved by the Commissioner within 4 months.
- Public authorities reported receiving 68,156 information requests in 2015/16. This is a 2% increase on 2014/15. Figures are reported in a publicly available database set up by the Commissioner. The portal data also shows that 75% of requests resulted in some or all of the requested information being provided, and that public authorities themselves are reporting 35% fewer ‘failures to respond’ to information requests since 2014/15.
- Public awareness of FOI is at its highest ever level, at 85%. This is up from 84% last year, and 78% in September 2013.
- FOI awareness is lower amongst 16-24 year olds. Ipsos MORI polling also revealed lower awareness amongst young people. The Commissioner is working in partnership with Young Scot to address this lower awareness.
Speaking at the launch of the report Rosemary Agnew said:
“These signs of improvement in FOI performance are welcome. As my report demonstrates, the majority of information requests result in some or all of the information being disclosed. It is encouraging that only a very small proportion of requests are appealed. I’m also pleased that the number of appeals made about a failure to respond has fallen significantly following our work to tackle this issue.”
“Unfortunately, our experience is that these improvements are not universal. There is still a clear gap between the best performing authorities and those who lag behind. As you will see from my report, my focus still lies in promoting good practice and intervening when I find poor practice.”
In an excellent example of Open Data, the Commissioner has also published detailed information on the appeals received since 2005, broken down by public authority, region and sector, in Excel spreadsheets on her website.
Following a consultation last year, 1st September 2016 saw FOISA being extended to cover more organisations.
Act Now has a full programme of FOISA workshops in Scotland. If you are new to FOI in Scotland or want to boost your career through gaining a qualification, our FOISA Practitioner Certificate is ideal. The four day course is endorsed by the Centre for FOI, based at Dundee University.
The next FOISA Practitioner Certificate course in Edinburgh is starting in February 2017.
If you’re considering enrolling on the course, what can you expect? Read a successful candidate’s observations and have a go at the FOISA test.