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SNP government should hold up its end of the bargain and expand access to information

January 16, 2013 9:47 AM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie MSP will urge Willie RennieWillie RennieMSPs to support moves to widen access to information laws during a Stage 3 debate on the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Act today. Mr Rennie will argue that too many arm's length bodies which spend taxpayers' money are being allowed to escape the public's right to scrutiny.

The Scottish Information Commissioner has previously said that citizens' rights continue to be eroded through changes in the delivery of public services. An increasing amount of public services are delivered through arm's length organisations and third parties, which can lead to inequality in access to information in different parts of Scotland. Scottish Liberal Democrats will support amendments which require Ministers to progressively increase access to information and routinely report on use of powers to expand the bill.

Commenting ahead of today's debate, Mr Rennie said:

"Access to public information is now an entrenched condition of a modern government's contract with the taxpayer. It is only right that bodies which spend the public pound face the public's right to scrutiny. That is why Nicola Sturgeon and her MSP colleagues must support moves to broaden the public's access to information.

"Changes to how local authorities deliver public services have had a real impact on the public's right to information. The failure to systematically broaden access to information over the years to meet these changes has resulted in inequalities from one council to another.

"Is it right that council tenants in South Lanarkshire can access information from the council about their tenancy, but their friends and relatives in Glasgow have no legal right to that same information? I think most people would agree that it isn't. It certainly doesn't seem fair that residents in East Lothian had their legal right to ask information about a publicly-funded leisure service stripped away from them when the service was outsourced to a leisure trust.

"If a school or hospital is delivered under a PPP contract, with day to day operational information being held by contractors and not the contracting council, parents and patients do not have the legal right to access information. This leaves parents unable to access information about how their child's school meals are selected, and prevents patients from accessing cleaning rotas for a specific hospital ward.

"The SNP government isn't holding up its end of the bargain by allowing the public's right to information to erode. After a year where it repeatedly demonstrated a dislike for openness, Scottish Liberal Democrats urge the SNP to change tack and expand the bill."