Research reveals mixed result for public bodies

Rosemary Agnew, Scottish Information Commissioner.
Rosemary Agnew, Scottish Information Commissioner.
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Criticism has been levelled at inconsistences in information shared by Scotland’s public bodies as new research revealed around a fifth of inquiries are unanswered.

Research published this week by the Scottish Information Commissioner found “significant gaps” in the information Scotland’s public bodies make available with less than half meeting all of their legal requirements.

While many bodies meet most of their publication requirements, not all do and information critical to holding public bodies accountable in relation to procurement, contracts, spending and salaries is not uniformly accessible to the public.

Under freedom of information legislation, public bodies are required to publish information about their work under specified categories covering a wide range of aspects include public authority functions, decision-making and performance. They also capture information on: spending, hospitality, external consultation or public relations, senior employees’s salaries, procurement policies and procedures and details of awarded contracts.

The research, carried out on the commissioner’s behalf by Craigforth Ltd, involved a ‘mystery-shopping’ exercise with 70 Scottish public bodies. It was found that while 94 per cent of public bodies had an online ‘Guide to Information’ to help people access published information, only 41 per cent published adequate information on procurement and contracts, 46 per cent published adequate information on spending and salaries

and 20 per cent of e-mail and 21 per cent of telephone requests for assistance were not answered.

Rosemary Agnew Scottish, Information Commissioner, said that this figure is “unacceptable”.

She said: “It’s very positive to confirm that the overwhelming majority of authorities publish easily accessible guides to the information they make available. But it’s disappointing to learn that important information too often could not be found. It is also unacceptable that around one in five requests for help went unanswered.

“Easy access to information is fundamental to citizen engagement. It is also an important part of establishing a relationship of trust and accountability.”

The commissioner has now written to public bodies across Scotland to inform them of the findings, and to offer advice on how to meet their publication duty more effectively.