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the Herald Press and Journal

The Herald and P&J back the demand for more FoI powers

By Hamish Mackay

January 11, 2012 | 3 min read

The Herald and the Press and Journal have thrown their full editorial weight behind extra powers under the freedom of information legislation.

Both papers used leading articles yesterday to back a plea by Scotland’s Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, for the legislation to apply to arm’s-length public bodies.

Dunion, presenting a report to Holyrood’s justice committee, said: “It is nearly 10 years since parliament was told that powers to designate additional bodies such as local authority trusts and private contractors would be used.

“Disappointingly, successive administrations have failed to make good on this despite opinion polls showing that the public is strongly in favour of such action.”

Last month the Scottish Government announced it planned to introduce the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill to Holyrood this year.

The Herald declared: “Many public bodies have recognised the advantage in adopting a culture of openness. Nevertheless, there is particular concern that changes in the way services are delivered have resulted in a range of new publicly funded bodies, unforeseen at the time of the original legislation, which are outwith its remit.

“They include prisons run by private companies, housing associations and the increasing number of arm's-length organisations set up by councils to provide services from care for the elderly to sports centres and museums.

“Ministers have the power to designate such bodies under the FOI legislation and their failure to do so amounts to an undermining of the act. With amending legislation going through Holyrood, the opportunity should be seized to maintain the original intention of the act.

“At a time when appeals against authorities are rising sharply, this would reinforce the gravity of failing to comply with FOI requests. This, together with Mr Dunion's suggestion that the Commissioner should have the power to take evidence about information, under oath if necessary, would be an important move towards a culture of greater transparency.

“As Scotland's first Information Commissioner, Mr Dunion has done a great deal to increase the culture of transparency.

“His final overview, however, is a timely reminder that FOI is a fragile concept that must be carefully protected against vested interests that would prefer not to have their costs, decisions or results open to scrutiny.

“Public knowledge is a highly effective weapon against ineptitude and corruption in public bodies.”

The Press and Journal said: “Like turkeys voting for Christmas, many MPs are wary of the Freedom of Information Act, as it was the weapon used to flush out the truth over their lavish lifestyle funded by the taxpayer.”

And it concluded: “FOI empowered ordinary people to hold public officials to account in a way never seen before.

“Two-thirds of appeals to the commissioner are successful, which shows that some still like to cling to their old ways.”

the Herald Press and Journal

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