Congress supported a call to update Scotland’s Freedom of information legislation by backing the proposal being put to Holyrood by Katy Clark MSP.
The motion moved by the National Union of Journalists which also outlined how the Scottish Government is failing to meet obligations under the current Act.
Speaking for UNISON in the debate Inez Kirk outlined where current legislation is failing to deliver:
“Put bluntly when services are transferred out of public delivery they fall into a black box where only cash inputs and some – previously defined by contract lawyers – outputs can be measured.
“Publicly delivered public services are transparent – not only what is being done, but how it is being done is open to scrutiny. This is not the case if services are contracted out
“Now we have a situation in which, simply because of a contractual arrangement, people in Aberdeen have more right to find out what is happening in their schools than do people in Glasgow and Edinburgh.”
A current threat to transparency mentioned is the Scottish Government’s plans for a so called National Care Service. This will operate via quango’s – Care Boards – which will contract others to deliver services. These bodies will spend around 1/3 of the budget that currently goes to councils . While the plan is that the Care Boards will be subject to FOI, as yet there is no reason that contractors will. This will at a stroke put billions of pounds of public spending outside the scop of Freedom of Information.
Inez went on to outline a different approach.
“What we have is a double standard – what we need is a single principle. The principle that with public money comes public accountability. Our right to know should not be dependent on the name of the organisation or its corporate structure.
“If you are spending public money, then you should be accountable for what you are doing – regardless of what sort of organisation you are or whether your purpose is public good or private profit. ”
This is the basis of a Members Bill Katy Clark MSP is seeking to put before the Scottish Parliament a move of which UNISON has been highly supportive.
“Transparency matters” Inez told Congress, and congress agreed.