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Survey finds strong public support for FOI

Survey finds strong public support for FOI - alongside support for a stronger FOI law

29 May 2024

New research published by the Scottish Information Commissioner has found both strong public awareness of Scotland’s freedom of information (FOI) law, along with strong public support for the key principles of openness and transparency that underpin FOI. 

The research also finds strong public support for the reform of FOI law in certain key areas, including the extension of FOI law to cover new bodies such as provides of publicly-funded care homes, and the introduction of a new criminal offence if staff working for public bodies try to subvert FOI legislation.

Freedom of information law gives people the right to request and receive information from Scottish public bodies, while also placing duties on public bodies to both publish information, and provide advice and assistance to those who want to access public sector information. 

The new research, which surveyed 1,279 members of the public between 11 and 15 March 2024, found that:

  • 88% of respondents reported that they had heard of Scotland’s FOI Act.
  • 97% agreed that it was important for the public to be able to access the information held by public bodies.
  • 83% agreed that FOI helps to prevent bad practice in public bodies.
  • Only 6% of respondents felt that FOI was a waste of public money (the lowest proportion since this question was first asked in 2011).

It also finds that:

  • 93% considered that FOI should be extended to cover publicly-funded health and social care services (including care homes).
  • 94% felt that FOI should apply to bodies carrying out large building and maintenance projects on behalf of a public body.
  • 89% agreed that all organisations that provide public services under contract to a public body should fall within scope. 
  • 79% felt that it should be a criminal offence for public bodies or their officials to try to subvert FOI legislation.

Commenting on the findings, Scottish Information Commissioner David Hamilton said:

“FOI is the kernel of democratic accountability and transparency and this survey illustrates not only the public’s support for it but also a desire for expansion and strengthening of the legislation.

“The recent experience of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent public inquiries are demonstrating in real-time the vital importance of maintaining an accurate and reliable record of public authority decision-making. Strong and effective FOI rights are also essential for ensuring that the public can access the information they’re entitled to, at the point when they need it.

“I look forward to discussing the survey with all interested parties, but especially the new Minister for Parliamentary Business. The Scottish Government has a new opportunity to use the parliamentary consensus for FOI reform to make Scotland a global leader in information rights and transparency.”

Read the full research report here