"Secret Scotland" claims over SNP bid to thwart FOI requests

Adam Tomkins says Nicola Sturgeon is presiding over a "secret Scotland."
Adam Tomkins says Nicola Sturgeon is presiding over a "secret Scotland."
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The Scottish Government has come under fire in a damning watchdog report which found journalists were "deliberately" thwarted from receiving Freedom of Information responses.

Scotland's Information Commissioner Daren Fitzhenry today found journalists faced delays, and were less likely to get information and treated differently from other members of the public. This is breaches the "blind principle" of Freedom of Information laws which says all requests from press and public should be treated alike.

Concerns are also raised about the role of politically appointed special advisers and the role they play in the way responses to journalists are handled.

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"Journalists, together with MSPs and political researchers, are expressly made subject to a different process for clearance than other requester groups," today's Intervention report on the Scottish Government's FOI practice finds.

" This is inconsistent with the applicant-blind principle of FOI legislation. Their requests are almost invariably subjected to an additional layer of clearance which is likely to delay the consideration of the case."

The proportion of late responses and failures to respond was considerably higher for journalists, particularly in 2015/16 and 2016/17.

And the report adds: "In a number of 2016 and 2017 cases I observed unjustifiable, significant delays and disregard for the statutory timescales."

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He found evidence of a "deliberate" delay one occasion, but suggested this may be higher but for the "paucity" of information in case files.

Tory MSP Adam Tomkins said: “This is a remarkable report which exposes Nicola Sturgeon’s secret Scotland.

“It reveals an SNP government which not only deliberately stands in the way of legally-binding FoI requests made by the media, but goes to great lengths to delay or influence what information is provided."

But SNP Parliamentary business minister Joe Fitzpatrick said ministers have already implemented a number of changes that have resulted in "significant improvements" in FOI performance.

He added: "In the first five months of 2018 we responded to 93% of FOI requests on time, exceeding the 90% target set by the Information Commissioner and a 10% increase on last year. Outside the FOI process, last year the Scottish Government responded to over 5,000 queries from journalists in a matter of hours. "