The Jimmy Reid Foundation is hosting a meeting on ‘Scrutiny of Private Sector Delivery of Public Services – Reforming FoI law to deliver equal transparency in Scotland’. Katy Clark MSP has issued a consultation seeking views on the reform of FoI law and one of the proposals is to cover the private sector when delivering public services. As the outsourcing of public services grows, ensuring consistent rules on transparency and accountability is essential. The consultation closes on 14th March.
The meeting is online on Monday 6th March 2023 from 6 – 7.30pm and is free to attend. Registration is on Eventbrite.
- Katy Clark is the Scottish Labour West Scotland Regional List MSP
- Carole Ewart, Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland
- Dave Watson, Interim Director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation
The meeting will be Chaired by Professor Mike Danson, Deputy-Chair Jimmy Reid Foundation Project Board
Reforming FoI Law
Fixing the transparency deficit matters. For example, under the proposals FoI would cover care homes whether provided by the public, private or third sectors. Currently people can only enforce FoI requests to public sector run care homes. The STUC’s report on social care in June 2022 highlighted a number of problems which pre-dated the covid pandemic including: that nearly 25% of care homes run by big private providers had at least one complaint upheld against them in 2019/20, compared to 6% of homes not run for profit; in older people’s care homes, staffing resources are 20% worse in the private sector compared to the not-for-profit sector. One of the report’s recommendations is that “Freedom of Information legislation should be extended to all care providers in receipt of public funding”.
From FoI requests, we can see the extent of private sector contracts in other publicly funded services: in 2018/19, NHS Boards in Scotland spent £80.5 million on the private sector; the total value of all contracts awarded by the Scottish Government during the 2016-2021 parliamentary session was £3,209,786,818.
The JRF is keen to enable supporters to hear about the issues and the blocks in securing legal reform of FoI law. Although the Scottish Government has now issued its own consultation on FoI, it is resisting reform of the law and instead proposes to work within existing rules. In her consultation document, Katy Clark explains why she is proposing to change the law and why tweaking the existing rules and processes is an inadequate approach to delivering robust transparency, accountability and enabling scrutiny on devolved matters. As both consultations close on 14th March 2023, it is important for JRF to participate in the debate.
Accessing the Consultations
Katy Clark MSP’s proposals – go to Proposed Freedom of Information Scotland Bill | Scottish Parliament Website
Scottish Government’s consultation go to Supporting documents – Access to information rights in Scotland: consultation – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA) became operational on 1st January 2005, having given the designated bodies a generous lead in time to prepare for complying with duties and delivering rights. Since then, hundreds of thousands of FoI requests have been made to individual GP surgeries, councils, health boards, regulators, colleges, universities and to the limited number of ALEOs (Arm’s Length External Organisations) covered. FoISA was a game changer because it introduced an enforceable right, freely accessible and adjudicated by the independent Scottish Information Commissioner. Consequently, FoISA is an established tool for scrutiny which has allowed people, organisations and journalists to obtain information on consumer issues, housing, education, policing, social care and on health.
However the legislation needs substantial reform evidenced in a succession of research, reports, campaigns and a Parliamentary inquiry report, of May 2020, which concluded, “There is a broad consensus that FOISA has brought significant benefits …. However, witnesses have identified a number of areas for improvement, both in terms of the legislation itself and in its implementation.” Due to legislative inaction, the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland published a Bill in January 2022 which has been taken up by Katy Clark MSP. The Scottish Government subsequently published its own consultation which reflects its 16 year old commitment to operate “within the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 rather than proposing significant changes to it, but adjusts the regime where it is necessary and sensible to do so.” 
 Profiting-from-Care-Report.pdf (stuc.org.uk) Pg 4
 NHS Boards expenditure on private sector: FOI release – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
 Contracts during 2016-2021 parliamentary sessions: FOI release – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
 Post-legislative Scrutiny : Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 – Parliamentary Business : Scottish Parliament
 Scottish Government’s Six FoI principles published in 2007 Guide to information published by the Scottish Government – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)