The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans reflects on the Scottish Government’s progress in relation to Freedom of Information, following the Scottish Information Commissioner’s Interventions and action taken forward during 2018 to progress extension of FOISA.
I am pleased to present the Scottish Government’s 2018 Annual Report on the handling of information requests made to us under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) and the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs).
As in previous years, the report contains a variety of statistical detail on request handling in 2018, allowing for comparison with data contained in reports from previous years.
This report demonstrates the substantial progress made in the Scottish Government’s request handling performance, following the Scottish Information Commissioner’s Interventions of 2017 and 2018. This was achieved in the face of a continued increase in the volume of requests received. In total 3,797 requests were received in 2018 (with 3,407 of these made to the Scottish Government and its Agencies) - up 24% from 2017.
In 2018, we responded to 91% of requests within the statutory 20 working day deadline. This exceeded the Scottish Information Commissioner’s target of 90% for the year. We also responded to 82% of all requests for internal review on time, a significant increase on the previous year’s performance of 67% - achieved in spite of a 25% increase in the number of review requests compared to the previous year. Nevertheless, we recognise that we continue to struggle to meet the review target.
As in previous years, the vast majority of Freedom of Information requests to the Scottish Government in 2017 resulted in the release of some or all of the information requested, where that information was held.
I am pleased with the significant improvement in the Scottish Government’s request handling performance. However, our improvement journey remains to be completed, and we recognise there is no room for complacency.
Our response to the Commissioner’s intervention has not merely been a question of responding to requests more promptly. Following his June 2018 intervention report we agreed an action plan with the Commissioner’s office to improve the effectiveness and robustness of our request handling process. This included an enhanced role for our central FoI Unit, the creation of a designated body of case handlers across the Scottish Government and changes to guidance for staff. Implementation of the action plan was begun in 2018 to be carried forward in 2019.
Over the course of the year my officials also progressed action to take forward the extension of FOISA to Registered Social Landlords, paving the way for a section 5 order to be laid in Parliament in early 2019. Work also began in 2018 to consider the Scottish Government’s wider approach to extension, to be carried forward in 2019.
The actions the Scottish Government has taken, in partnership with the Scottish Information Commissioner, to improve our FoI culture, performance and practices - together with our ongoing work on extension - reflect our commitment to ensuring transparency in the delivery of government business and in the public services on which we all rely. We continue to aspire to be the most open and accessible government Scotland has ever had.