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January 10, 2023

Get ready for FOI reform

It’s 20 years since the Freedom of Information legislation was introduced in Scotland and back then only public authorities were made subject to FOI requests. But much has changed in the way that public services are delivered with both the private and third sectors now playing an increased role. On the grounds of improving transparency and public accountability, there’s a growing clamour for the FOI reach to be extended to include part or even all of our sector. This is a complex issue with potentially serious implications for our sector – one that we should all engage with.

Paul Bradley, SCVO

Reform of FoI in Scotland is inevitable, but what that reform looks like is not…

While it may be the first time you’ve heard of it, proposals to reform FoI in Scotland have been brewing for some time. The consultation on a Member’s Bill comes from the Scottish Labour Member for West of Scotland. However, there is broad support across the political parties for the reform of FoI, with the Scottish Parliament calling for coverage of FoI to extend to all bodies that deliver public services or spend public funds.

Campaigners say the Scottish Government has been too slow to act on the committee’s recommendations, hence the proposal for a Member’s Bill. The Scottish Government has since published its own consultation, which closes the following month on 14 March. It also seeks views on ensuring people’s access to information rights keeps up with the changing landscape of public service delivery. However, as the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland puts it, the two FoI consultations ‘offer radically different solutions to acknowledged problems.’ 

Both consultations show that there is consensus across the political divide that reform of FoI is needed and inevitable, including the expanding scope of what is covered by FoI. What isn’t inevitable is how that reform takes shape, something that is clear from the differences between the two consultations open for views. Still, at the heart of both consultations are people’s access to information rights, and voluntary organisations of all types must engage now to inform this crucial debate, to ensure that any reforms are proportionate and effective.  

SCVO will provide further background information on the proposals to reform FoI over the coming weeks to support your engagement in our work.