UNISON Scotland today called on all public bodies to urgently ensure they are properly resourcing Freedom of Information teams during the pandemic.
The Scottish Information Commissioner Daren Fitzhenry today issued an initial ‘Special Report on impact of Covid-19 on FOI in Scotland’ and laid it before the Scottish Parliament.
UNISON said that it was deeply concerning to see the Commissioner has had to warn the Scottish Government and some public authorities who have seemingly deprioritised their FOI function to reinstate it now.
Mr Fitzhenry said that his ongoing intervention with the Scottish Government has included urging “Scottish Ministers to direct immediate attention towards restoring their FOI function”, including restoring “trained FOI staff to key FOI roles”. This is also advice he is giving to all other authorities who have deprioritised their FOI function.*
The Report states that the Commissioner has had to start interventions with a number of authorities over problems with their FOI performance, including the Scottish Police Authority, the University of Edinburgh, the Scottish Ambulance Board and a number of other authorities.**
Stephen Low, Policy Officer, said: “Health boards, councils and all public bodies must properly fund their FOI teams. Any not currently doing so must urgently allocate resources to make sure they comply with FOI legislation.
“This is particularly important where the Commissioner is taking action through interventions. It is shocking that the Scottish Government is being warned on this today after longstanding concerns about failures on FOI responses.
“The Commissioner rightly stresses in his report how fundamentally important FOI responses are during this pandemic, literally with the potential to help save lives. Yet the Scottish Government and other bodies are being investigated for poor performance.
“We represent many people working in and with FOI teams across all public services and we know that our members and their colleagues have bent over backwards, regularly going above and beyond to keep all essential public services going. The Commissioner rightly praises FOI practitioners.
“Their employers, the public bodies, must remember that FOI is an essential public service at this time and allocate resources immediately, where these are not sufficient.
“Of course, separately, UNISON has long been concerned that many key public services are not covered by FOI and we have specifically this year called for Scotland’s FOI Act to be extended to cover private care homes.
“The importance of being able to access information about how all care homes are responding to Covid-19 should not need explanation, but does need a speedy commitment to updating FOI law to cover them.”
The Commissioner’s Special Report on impact of Covid-19 on FOI in Scotland http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/News/20201217.aspx
*See Page 6 and P23
**See Page 6 including Note 11 in the report.
Private care homes should be covered by freedom of information legislation following “lethal failures over COVID”, according to Scotland’s biggest public service trade union.
UNISON contact details
Stephen Low – Policy Officer 07956 852822