Protect our right to freedom of information
Author: Zoe Stavri
Published on Sep 19, 2012
The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FOISA) was passed in 2002. Agnew believes that in practice, Scottish citizens have less access to information now than they did a decade ago. She says this is due to “arms length” bodies providing public services: that is, third parties and private sector providers of services, which are exempt from the FOISA. She also criticised plans by the government to keep any communication between ministers and the royal family secret.
The problems highlighted by Agnew are echoed in the use of UK-wide freedom of information legislation, where again private organisations providing public services, paid for with public money, are exempt from FOI requests. These bodies are a part of our day-to-day life, from collecting our bins to coordinating national policing operations, and the information is unavailable to us. Likewise, some royals have been granted an exemption from the Act in the UK.
Freedom of information is a right. While it is more famous for bringing to light scandals involving expenses and lobbying when used by the media, the Scottish annual report shows that the overwhelming majority of people who use the Act are ordinary members of the public trying to find out information about services that directly affect them.
Agnew insists that more bodies must be designated as being covered by the FOISA, and this move would be welcome on a UK-wide basis. When giving evidence to the Justice Committee’s post-legislative scrutiny of the UK Freedom of Information Act, our deputy director Alexandra Runswick said we need to make a shift from a “private unless” culture of information to one which is “public unless.”
We need fewer exemptions and get-out-clauses in order to scrutinise decisions that affect us and hold those responsible to account.