The Scottish Information Commissioner today [8 March 2010] told Scotland's public authorities that they must "think FOI" if they are to minimise the impact of freedom of information requests. The call coincides with data, published in the Commissioner's 2009 Annual Report, which shows that the number of FOI appeals made to the Commissioner increased by 15% over the last year, and that two-thirds of the decisions he issued found that a public authority had breached FOI law in some way.
Marking the launch of his 2009 Annual Report, Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner, said:
"2009 saw a significant increase in the number of appeals I received. The effect of the recession on public spending may well mean even more requests for information being made by people concerned about public authority decisions which affect services, funding or jobs.
"It is therefore essential that public authorities take steps to make sure they can more readily comply with FOI, giving people the information they want, while minimising the impact on public authority resources. Key to this is assuming information will be released. When staff create information, they should be aware that their reports, emails and notes may one day be released under FOI. All too often, a public authority's reluctance to disclose is less about the actual content of the information, and more about the manner in which staff have expressed themselves. By encouraging staff at all levels to "think FOI", public authorities can encourage a more professional approach to internal, as well as external, communications – making it far easier to contemplate release."
Alongside the 15% increase in applications, the Commissioner's Annual Report also reveals that:
- 73% of the applications received by the Commissioner in 2009 came from members of the public;
- the Commissioner found that a public authority had breached the law in some way in two thirds of the appeals that were made to him;
- the average age of cases being dealt with by the Commissioner continued to decline during 2009, meaning that individual applications are being resolved more quickly. The average age of cases closed during 2009 was 5.3 months, down from 6.7 months in 2008 and 10 months in 2007;
- enquiries to the Commissioner's Office from people seeking advice on using FOI also increased significantly, with a 16% increase on 2008 volumes.
The 2009 Report, which also celebrates the first five years of FOI in Scotland, is being presented electronically for the first time through an interactive website. Additional features in the report include video commentary, interactive tables, user stories, and detailed chronologies charting the development of FOI in Scotland over its first five years. Hard copies of the report will be available by contacting the Commissioner's office on 01334 464610.
The full report can be viewed online at www.itspublicknowledge.info/ask