SCOTLAND’S businesses need an urgent "wake-up" call over the volume of previously secret information now seeping into the public domain.
The country’s information commissioner Kevin Dunion says he is "surprised" at Scottish companies’ indifference to the implications of the Freedom of Information Act, which came into force on January 1.
Now 10,000 public bodies such as councils, health boards and the Scottish Executive need a good excuse to refuse anyone any information they want - for whatever reason.
While great interest has been shown by journalists, archivists and universities, Dunion claims the business community has been slow to grasp the full impact of the legislation.
Dunion said: "It is the one area in Scotland that has surprised me: how little interest the business community has shown. The act is used abroad extensively by businesses, but it does not appear to have been properly considered by businesses here.
"I think they feel reassured that because the act does not apply to them directly, somehow it is of limited impact. They do not seem to have considered the scale of public procurement, and particularly things like PFI and PPP mean that a lot of information about companies will become available."
The implication for businesses is two-fold. Firstly, they now have access to information about spending plans of public organisations which spend billions each year. Secondly, any business that has dealings with a public body will find those dealings may now be made public.
Dunion said: "Environmental information that becomes available will apply to companies directly. I think they should wake up to this quite quickly. It’s going to come as a surprise to many of them.
"I am not saying the business community or individual businesses are not using it; it’s just that I have had very little contact with them in the way that I have had contact with archivists or police, or universities, who have been proactive in understanding the legislation."
Under the act, a public body has 20 working days to either answer a question or refuse to divulge the information.
So far the act has been used to unearth previously confidential information on Kirsty Wark’s Holyrood Parliament film The Gathering Place - details about the way police complaints are handled and even the value of wine in First Minister Jack McConnell’s cellar.
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