Scottish public authorities' handling of freedom of information (FOI) requests is improving, according to the annual report of the Scottish Information Commissioner for 2015-16, published today.
Of the 68,156 FOI requests made in Scotland last year – a growth of 2% – fewer than 1% were appealed to the Commissioner; and the number of appeals investigated following an authority’s failure to respond to a FOI request has fallen from 94 in 2013-14 to 61 last year.
A total of 540 appeals were made to the Commissioner in 2015-16, up 14% on 2014-15 but down from the 578 appeals of two years ago.
Appeals volumes fell for some sectors, most notably for the Scottish Government and its agencies, down from 111 appeals to 84, but increased for others such as non-departmental public bodies, largely due to an increase in Scottish Fire & Rescue Service appeals, from one in 2014-15 to 12 this year.
There was also a significant increase (from 45 to 81) in appeals about requests made to Police Scotland. Three per cent of Police Scotland’s information requests resulted in an appeal, compared to a national average of 0.8%.
Members of the public accounted for 61% of appeals, the media for 20% of appeals, and prisoners 7%. Overall, 60% of the Commissioner’s decisions found wholly or partially in the requester’s favour, and 73% of cases were resolved by the Commissioner within four months, 20% being settled without the need for a decision.
Data provided by public authorities show that 75% of requests received resulted in some or all of the requested information being provided, and 35% fewer "failures to respond" to information requests since 2014-15.
Public awareness of FOI is at its highest ever level, at 85%, but lower amongst the 16-24 age group.
Speaking at the launch of the report, the Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew said: “These signs of improvement in FOI performance are welcome. As my report demonstrates, the majority of information requests result in some or all of the information being disclosed. It is encouraging that only a very small proportion of requests are appealed. I’m also pleased that the number of appeals made about a failure to respond has fallen significantly following our work to tackle this issue.
“Unfortunately, our experience is that these improvements are not universal. There is still a clear gap between the best performing authorities and those who lag behind. As you will see from my report, my focus still lies in promoting good practice and intervening when I find poor practice.”