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  • Och Aye The Noo…We Are Better Than You

    Posted on March 13th, 2009 admin No comments
    There's a welcome in the hills for FoI

    There's a welcome in the hills for FoI

    Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner has launched an attack on the UK Government and Westminster saying those in power south of the border are losing their nerve about Freedom of Information.
    He says they are backsliding on their commitment to freedom of information and returning to the secrecy culture of the 1960s and 1970s.

    Speaking to the Sunday Herald, Mr Dunion highlighted Jack Straw’s first use of the ministerial veto to block the release of Cabinet minutes dealing with the Iraq war.

    He also said many MPs simply “don’t get” the concept of letting the public see the detail of how they spend taxpayers’ money, despite it being the norm at Holyrood.

    Mr Dunion said: “I discern a palpably different mood north and south of the border. I just wonder, where are the friends of FoI down south?

    “We are very keen to press ahead with the extension of FoI in Scotland, and we are in discussion with Bruce Crawford minister for parliamentary business.

    “Down south, the indications are that’s far from the government’s agenda. It’s more concerned with amending FoI, to make sure it doesn’t apply to things like Northern Rock and to use the veto to stop the release of Cabinet minutes.

    “Those are all really negative indicators from down south, which at the moment we don’t seem to have any parallel for in Scotland.”

    “The use by Jack Straw of the veto should not be at all downplayed,” said Dunion. “It is a nuclear option for a minister to press the button on using the veto and overriding not just the information commissioner, but the Information Tribunal.

    “We are now getting clear signals that English legislation may be amended so that Cabinet minutes become absolutely exempt. That is quite a departure from progressive thinking in FoI. That’s going back to 1960s, 1970s thinking.”

    His comments come as the SNP government considers whether to extend the reach of FoI to a new range of organisations in Scotland.

    Dunion has asked for the biggest Public Private Partnership (PPP) contracts, including privately run Kilmarnock Prison, and around 80 arms-length council trusts, many handling leisure services, to be designated as open to FoI.

    Starting with housing associations owning more than 1000 homes, he has also asked for all 170 registered social landlords to be designated. The change would not expose private companies to every kind of FoI request, but it would open up specific contracts under which they carried out a public function, such as building a hospital or maintaining a school.

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