Public denied information by gaps in law, says Dunion
MEMBERS of the public are not getting access to important information about their public services because private contractors are exempt from Freedom of Information legislation, the Scottish Information Commissioner claimed yesterday.
Kevin Dunion will publish his annual report today, but yesterday he told The Scotsman there were still major gaps in the law preventing people getting information they should be entitled to.
Mr Dunion wants ministers to change the law and bring private companies working in the public sector under the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.
An increasing number of private corporations have become involved in the delivery of public services through the Public Private Partnership scheme.
Gordon Brown has started a consultation for England and Wales on ways to bring them under the scope of Freedom of Information legislation but, as yet, the Scottish Government has not done the same.
Mr Dunion believes all of these private companies should now be covered by the act, as well as housing associations.
He said: "I am talking here about a 30-year monopolistic contract, covering the entire running of a public establishment from the planning of it through to its day-to-day operation. That sort of information should be in the public domain.
"If it was a hospital, you could be born in it, have your tonsils out in it and give birth to your children in it, but you would not have access to information about its operation.
"Another area I am interested in is social housing. I do think things like the Glasgow Housing Association should be covered. If you have a tenant in a council house you have a right under Freedom of Information to information about your landlord, but not if you are in a housing association.
"They want to know about waiting lists, about the cost of work done on their behalf, whether the landlord got a good deal."
Mr Dunion added: "The contractors should be covered within the act. There is an enormous amount of information which the public had a right to but which now they are prevented from accessing."
The commissioner said other countries had solved this problem by making sure that public authorities held all the relevant information from private companies working on their behalf.
Other administrations had designated private companies as public authorities as far as the legislation was concerned, if they took over public contracts.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "The matter of extending the scope of the Freedom of Information Scotland Act to cover additional bodies is under active consideration."
Mr Dunion's report shows that he has had to deal with almost 1,000 appeals in the last three years following the refusal of Scottish ministers and councils to provide information.
There has been a total of 677 applications regarding local authorities between the start of 2005 and the end of 2007.
And there have been 267 applications regarding the previous Scottish Executive and the current Scottish Government.
City council tops commissioner's 'league of shame'
DUNDEE City Council is the worst-performing public body in terms of the Freedom of Information Act, according to a report published today.
The annual report of the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, reveals the local authority has been served with 12 information notices in the past three years.
These notices are issued by the commissioner when a public authority refuses to hand over information, is investigated and found to be in breach of the legislation, and is then required by the commissioner to make the material available.
There have been only 76 information notices handed down to all public bodies in Scotland over the past three years, so Dundee's dozen notices represent 15 per cent of all those served – more than the Scottish Government, which has been served with ten notices.
A spokesman for Dundee City Council said: "It is our belief that we are operating within the legislation."
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