Labour party to introduce bill intended to increase transparency and accountability
Proposed changes to Scotland’s freedom of information laws could see private firms included in strengthened transparency requirements that would also put the onus on public bodies to proactively release data.
Katy Clark, the Labour member for West Scotland, is shortly to introduce to the Scottish Parliament a private members’ bill dedicated to FOI reform. The bill will be based on ideas set out in a paper published by Labour this week, which propose the extension of the Freedom of Information Scotland Act to all bodies providing public services and the introduction of a presumption in favour of proactive publication of information.
The proposals come as the latest figures show 14% of FOI responses by Scottish bodies in the last year were issued after the 20-day deadline.
Scottish Labour claims that it wishes to bring an end to the “SNP’s secret Scotland”.
Party leader Anas Sarwar said its proposals are “only the start of the fightback”.
He added: “When you have a government which actively seeks to avoid scrutiny and backbenchers who suspend their responsibilities in the name of party interest – then the system needs to be reformed. Committees have been ignored, processes run roughshod over and the responsibility to be truly accountable to both parliament, the press and the public has been ignored by SNP ministers.”
Polling for the Scottish Information Commissioner earlier this year found three quarters of people believe FOI laws should be strengthened. In particular, the public felt it was ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important that information about privately run but publicly funded health and social care services was available.
Scottish Information Commissioner Daren Fitzhenry said: “The events of the last two years have highlighted the importance of transparency in how public bodies make decisions, and this is reflected in our research. However, it is essential that members of the public are aware of their rights to access public information on the issues that matter to them.”