Tuesday 8 December 2009

Extending freedom

I'm pleased to see that Bruce Crawford MSP has launched a consultation on extending the Freedom of Information Act. Since it was introduced in 2002, members of the public have been able to access a range of information that public bodies may previously have kept under wraps. Interestingly, the Scottish Information Commissioner notes that Bruce's proposals would mean that our Government will go much further than Westminster.

The proposed changes are due in part to the creation of organisations such as Culture and Sport Glasgow; many formerly Council-run services across the country have moved out of direct Council control to arms length external organisations, and technically also moved out of reach of FOI. It's logical and reasonable to repair this anomaly and ensure that these services remain accountable and provide good value for money.

A bone of contention for many people in Glasgow was the GHA's similar exemption from FOI. They receive and spend vast sums of public money, but thus far have not been open to full scrutiny from the public at large. It's true that other social landlords are also exempt, but none are so monolithic as the GHA - the press release makes mention that, for the others, transparency may be dealt with under the Housing (Scotland) Bill.

I'm glad also that PPP/PFI contracts - which I don't even get to see properly as a Councillor - may also be subject to the extended legislation. When colleagues asked to view the Glasgow secondary schools documentation, they were only allowed to view the contract itself and take notes while supervised by Council officers. Commercial confidentiality, apparently. How we're supposed to establish value for money is a bit of a mystery, so I really hope that this can be opened up.

Bruce Crawford MSP:

It is important that organisations who deliver key public services for the people of Scotland operate transparently so the public can be reassured we are getting high quality services and value for money. I am also sympathetic to the view that people should be able to 'follow' the expenditure of public money through their access to information, in particular in relation to PFI/PPP contracts which tend to be high value and long term."

Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion:

"I am pleased that the public's right to information is being protected and in some cases extended by the Scottish Government's proposals to bring bodies like local authority trusts, private prisons and PPP contractors within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

I will use the period of consultation to argue that the right to information is not an unreasonable burden. There is no evidence of any material damage to commercial interests or public procurement from FOI disclosures in Scotland over the past 5 years. It needs to be accepted that where substantial sums of public money are being expended then the public should have right to know. Freedom of information should follow the public pound."

The consultation should be underway in Spring next year.

1 comment:

joe90 kane said...

I just thought I'd mention that Corporate Watch notes this consulation in its latest news bulletin roundup -
NEWS IN BRIEF – WATCHING December 16, 2009

The Scottish government is to formally consult on extending Freedom of Information legislation to private prison operators, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and contractors who build schools and hospitals. The Scottish announcement mirrors the claims, made by the Ministry of Justice in July, that the terms of the act may be extended in England.

All the best