Scottish FOI law to be extended to leisure services

FREEDOM of Information laws will be extended to cover arm’s-length bodies providing leisure and cultural services with ­public money, the Scottish ­Government has announced.

Bodies such as Edinburgh Leisure, who run the city's Commonwealth Pool, will be affected. Picture: Greg Macvean

It follows the rise of companies, such as Glasgow Life and Edinburgh Leisure, which are exempt from the same level of public scrutiny as councils.

Campaigners have complained that the rise of arm’s-length organisations (aleos) has led to an erosion of FoI rights, reducing the public’s ability to know how their money is spent.

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Nicola Sturgeon announced a consultation earlier this year on extending FoI laws to include bodies that spend public funds, alongside health boards, police authorities and councils that are already covered.

Yesterday, the Deputy First Minister confirmed an order has been laid in Holyrood and would be enacted in April 2014.

MSPs have already approved the first changes to Scotland’s FoI laws this year since the original act in 2002, through an amendment act which included a pledge to publish historical documents faster and make it easier to prosecute.

Ms Sturgeon promised the changes would be introduced as quickly as possible, creating the “most robust freedom of information regime in the whole of the UK”. She said: “It is important that bodies which spend taxpayers’ money are subject to scrutiny, including through Freedom of Information legislation.

“This new legislation, being laid before parliament today, will see us extend the scope of FoI coverage to more organisations, reflecting our commitment to continuously improve Scotland’s transparency.

“Under this government, we now make historic files available to the public after just 15 years – sooner than anywhere else in the UK. The amendment act has added strength and clarity to Scotland’s FoI legislation and we are now proposing to widen the scope of bodies covered by that legislation.”

Ms Sturgeon added she wanted Scotland’s “principles of openness, ­transparency and accountability to set an example for other nations to aspire to”.

However, opposition MSPs said the changes did not go far enough and should cover ­housing associations and private firms on public contracts.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie attacked the SNP’s record on Freedom of Information.

“This is a timid response to a demand for open government,” he said. “This only deals with a micro-fraction of the range of bodies that should be subject to Freedom of Information laws.

“There has been a dramatic fall in the public’s right to know since the SNP came to power because of the drift to outside bodies running public services.”

Green MSP Alison Johnstone welcomed the extension but added: “Accountability has clearly been eroded in recent years with hundreds of private and arm’s-length organisations delivering public services.”