SCVO warns against extension of Scottish Freedom of Information Act

The voluntary sector umbrella body says that bringing charities that deliver public sector services under its auspices would be a 'disproportionate burden' on those organisations

Extending the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act to charities that deliver public sector services would create a "disproportionate burden" on voluntary sector organisations, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has warned the Scottish government.

In its response last month to a consultation by the Scottish government about extending FOI legislation, the SCVO says it has concerns about the "potential financial and operational implications" for the voluntary sector and the lack of engagement with the sector to date, particularly during the consultation period.

The consultation, which closed last month, suggested extending the FOI Act in Scotland to cover organisations that deliver public services.

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator last year backed introducing fees for requests made under the legislation in order to prevent "frivolous and vexatious requests", and cautioned against extending the act to cover charities that work with public services.

In its consultation response, the SCVO warns that charities reliant on public sector contracts could experience a "dramatic impact" on their work if they were covered by the legislation.

The consultation response says: "SCVO has consistently opposed the extension of FOI legislation to individual voluntary sector organisations. In our view this would represent a disproportionate burden on these organisations and would discriminate against them in respect of their non-government and non-public-service work.

"There are also concerns held by our members that it would prove difficult to separate out which information will be subject to FOISA given the unified organisational and management structures that many organisations have," it adds.

The SCVO also warns of potential increases in workload as a result of extending the legislation, and says the Scottish government’s promises to the contrary were concerning given the lack of consultation with the voluntary sector during the consultation period.

"SCVO supports the overall aim of the FOISA legislation and the human right to information," the consultation response says.

"We do, however, hold concerns around the potential financial and operational implications that might arise from further extension of the legislation to Scotland’s voluntary organisations.

"Wider and deeper engagement in the design and delivery of changes to FOISA should come before any commitments to new section 5 orders are made."

The SCVO also questions why the consultation closed before Scottish parliamentary scrutiny of the FOI legislation was completed and published, which is due to happen later this month.

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