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Holyrood debates extension of FoI to all public service providers

By Keith Aitken in Edinburgh | 16 January 2013

Scottish ministers will face strong pressure at Holyrood this afternoon to extend Freedom of Information legislation to cover contracted-out public services.

As the Parliament debates the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, Opposition MSPs are pressing for changes that would extend FoI cover to private sector, voluntary and arm’s-length bodies that provide public services.

The Scottish Government has so far resisted the calls, though ministers have agreed to keep the list of bodies covered by FoI under active review, and to consult more widely on its extension. They also agreed, during the passage of the Bill, to withdraw automatic FoI exemption from all communications involving the royal family.

But critics, including information commissioner Rosemary Agnew, have argued that the growing pressure on public bodies to contract out services in pursuit of economies is steadily reducing the right of Scots to public policy information. 

Some have voiced fears that Scotland, having set the pace for FoI with its original 2002 legislation, is now falling behind provision in the rest of the UK.

Today’s Opposition amendments are backed by, among others, the Campaign for Freedom of Information Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

Carole Ewart, co-convener of CFoIS, said: ‘At a time when Audit Scotland estimates that over 130 arm’s-length bodies are involved in delivering public services, and when the Scottish Government is proposing Bills like the Procurement and Community Empowerment Bills that will bring more bodies into public service delivery, it is very concerning that they seem oblivious to the threats these pose to everyone’s right to know t how our cash is spent.’

STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham said: ‘We support CFoIS in arguing that FoI rights must be maintained and extended not curtailed and reduced.’

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