A study, carried out by researchers at the University of Strathclyde, has examined the use of FOI by voluntary organisations and campaign groups across Scotland. It found that where requests for information were refused, more than half of respondents reported that the public authority failed to notify them of their right to appeal against the refusal, despite there being a legal requirement to do so. The researchers also found that, where appeals against refusal were made to an authority, one in four respondents said the authority failed to notify them of their right of further appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner. The research was undertaken as part of an ongoing 3-year study into the use of FOI laws by the voluntary sector. The study also found that almost half (49%) of the voluntary sector respondents surveyed would be discouraged from requesting information under FOI because of a fear that it might harm working or funding relationships.
The full research study, entitled ‘Public Communication, Democracy and Citizenship: Assessing Civil Society Uptake of Freedom of Information’ is due to be published in 2011. The research report published on 4 January 2010 “Voluntunteering Information? The use of FOI laws by the Third Sector in Scotland – Survey Findings” brings together the first-phase quantitative findings from this study. The research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and is supported by the Scottish Information Commissioner. The research was launched in 2008 following evidence to suggest that the FOI ‘right to information’ might not be being used to its full potential by Scotland’s voluntary and campaign organisations, with only 4% of the appeals received in 2007 by the Commissioner coming from the sector. This figure compared with 6% from the media, 7% from politicians, and 77% from the public.
The Scottish Government is currently considering extending the FOI Act to cover additional bodies. It announced on 8 December 2009 that it plans to consult on the extension of FOI to cover PFI/PPP contractors, trusts that provide cultural and leisure services and bodies such as the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, the Glasgow Housing Association and privately-run prisons. The Scottish Information Commissioner has welcomed the announcement, arguing that the practice of handing the delivery of public services to third party organisations not covered by FOI is eroding the public’s right to information.