Praise for public authorities

Margaret Curran, Minister for Parliamentary Business, has praised public authorities for rising to the challenge of maximising transparency and accountability in decision-making and for embracing the freedom of information laws.

As one of the many public authorities covered by the Act, the Scottish Executive has answered requests on subjects as wide ranging as flood prevention measures, ministerial and staff travel, and works of art purchased. The Scottish Executive now proactively publishes minutes of meetings, performance information, information about contracts, staff policies, and farm subsidy payments.

Although there are concerns about the backlog of cases with the Scottish Information Commissioner, additional funding has been provided by the Scottish Parliament to ensure that the current backlog of cases is cleared and that more work is focused on good practice.

Ms Curran is of the view that the Scottish FOI regime is one to be proud of, "but it is a tough one to operate, with tight timescales and a clear applicant-friendly focus." She stresses the importance of striking a balance between the needs of authorities and the public, and believes that what is needed is a common-sense approach: "We must ensure the system is not undermined or devalued by misuse. Applicants can do this by making requests responsibly, and authorities should continue to use the mechanisms available to encourage responsible use, such as proactively publishing more information and providing advice and assistance."

Public bodies have risen to information challenge (Sunday Herald, 18 February 2007)