Scotland consults on extending Freedom of Information Act

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on extending the scope of the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) to include charities and other bodies that deliver public service contracts.

The Scottish Government has a list of about 10,000 public authorities currently covered by the act. The act also gives it the power to add new organisations to the list if they deliver "a function of a public nature".

The consultation is asking whether registered social landlords and companies and charitable trusts set up by local authorities to run services such as leisure facilities should be included.

The consultation paper says that Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner, is among a number of people who have expressed concern that the growth of contracting since the act came into force in 2002 has meant the public has lost the right to access information about many public services.

It says any changes would affect only information that related to the delivery of public services, but admits that even that would impose an extra burden on organisations. It proposes to include only those that deliver valuable, long-term contracts. It says: "For small businesses, charitable and not-for-profit bodies, amongst others, the burdens may be disproportionate."

It also says the case for extending coverage would be "less persuasive where a body was answerable to a regulator" or where the information could be obtained from public authorities. Earlier this year, the Scottish Information Commissioner ordered Glasgow City Council to release a successful tender document by two charities to run the city's homeless outreach services (Third Sector Online, 24 September).

The consultation paper says the practical and legal case for bringing organisations under the scope of the act would have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. "The Scottish Government is minded to favour an incremental approach to any extension of coverage as opposed to a ‘big bang'," it adds.

The discussion closes on 12 January 2009. A similar consultation on expanding the scope of the Freedom of Information Act in England and Wales ended on 1 February, but the Ministry of Justice has yet to issue a response. A spokesman was unable to say when a response would be issued.

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