Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Appeals to Scottish Information Commissioner up 14% as concerns remain over Scots public bodies handling of Freedom of Information requests

Report – improvements in Transparency not universal. A REPORT on how Scottish public bodies handle Freedom of Information requests has found while most appear to be improving at dealing with FOI, improvements are not universal and there remain significant concerns.

The Annual Report 2015/16 published by the Scottish Information Commissioner - reveals that 540 appeals were made to the Commissioner in 2015/16 - a 14% increase on last year. The report also discloses there were 68,000 FOI requests made in Scotland in the last year.

The Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002 has now been in force since 2005 – yet significant gaps in transparency remain and increasingly complex & creative ways in which public bodies dodge Freedom of Information requests – have risen.

Speaking at the launch of her 2015/16 Annual Report, Scottish Information Commissioner 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."

The Commissioner's 2015/16 Annual 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.

Rosemary Agnew added: "We are also conscious of how important it is we perform well. We appreciate that it is frustrating for requesters, who have already had to wait for several months, if our investigations are unnecessarily protracted. It can also be stressful for authorities who have to wait for the outcome of our investigations. When someone has to appeal, we work hard to resolve the issue quickly, with 73% of our cases taking no more than four months, and 60% of our decisions finding wholly or partly in the requester's favour. The focus now must be on making it work even better at every stage."

Towards a transparent Scotland:

  • Public awareness of FOI reached its highest ever level, at 85%
  • We reduced "failure to respond" appeals by 24% (and by 35% from 2013/14)
  • We issued our highest ever number of EIR decisions, at 61
  • 540 appeals were made to the Commissioner - a 14% increase on last year
  • We resolved 20% of our cases without the need for a decision
  • We met or exceeded almost all of our investigation performance targets
  • We answered 100% of our own FOI requests within 20 working days
  • We delivered 3 regional roadshows, with 97% of participants rating them as "good" or "excellent".

Appeal statistics - by region and sector:

The Commissioner's 2015/16 Annual Report and Accounts (above) has details of the appeals received by the Commissioner over the year.  The spreadsheets below have more information on all of the appeals received by the Commissioner since 2005, when FOI law came into effect in Scotland. 

You can view this information by either geographic region, or by public authority sector (central government, local government, health, etc).

 Public authority tables by Region 2005 - 2016 (Excel - 1.98MB)

Public authority tables by Sector 2005 - 2016 (Excel - 1.94MB)

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