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Watchdog finds failings in Scottish public bodies' publication schemes

Public sector organisations in Scotland have been called on to improve the information they proactively disclose under freedom of information (FOI) laws.05 Jul 2016

The Scottish Information Commissioner's Office (SICO) highlighted shortcomings in the publication schemes operated by Scottish public bodies after releasing the results of a study it commissioned into the information being made available for scrutiny by those organisations.

SICO said the review, of 70 public bodies' publication schemes, including organisations in central and local government, the NHS and the education sector, revealed "mixed" findings.

"It's very positive to confirm that the overwhelming majority of authorities publish easily accessible guides to the information they make available," Scottish information commissioner Rosemary Agnew said. "But it's disappointing to learn that such important information on spending and procurement too often could not be found. It is also unacceptable that around one in five requests for help went unanswered."

"Freedom of information requires authorities to publish information, and to help anyone who wants to access it. Easy access to information is fundamental to citizen engagement. It is also an important part of establishing a relationship of trust and accountability, without which confidence in public services is undermined," she said.

According to SICO, only 41% of the 70 public bodies assessed published "adequate information on procurement and contracts" and fewer than half (46%) disclosed sufficient details on spending and salaries.

Under FOI laws all public authorities must "adopt and maintain" a scheme of publishing information that must be approved by the ICO. The scheme has to "specify classes of information which the public authority publishes or intends to publish, specify the manner in which information of each class is, or is intended to be, published, and specify whether the material is, or is intended to be, available to the public free of charge or on payment".