Kevin Dunion, Scotland’s soon-to-depart Information Commissioner, has suggested that the FoIA be ammended in a number of ways to ensure it continues to be a useful piece of legislation.
The Times, The Herald, The Sun, The Telegraph and The Scotsman all report that Mr Dunion’s report Informing The Future is criticising the government’s lack of commitment to its original plans.
He told MSPs today that the Freedom of Information Act needs to be extended to make more public bodies open to scrutiny. “The MSPs promised, when the act was coming into effect, that it would be extended to cover more organisations, and 10 years on we are still waiting for that. I just want to remind them of that,” he said.
The Herald reported that he also suggested the next Information Commissioner should have extra powers, including the ability to demand evidence under oath, to prevent public bodies right up to the Scottish Government backsliding on their obligations.
Mr Dunion warned that transparency in Scotland would be undermined if FoIA was not applicable to private companies who are sub-contracted by public bodies to carry out public sector work.
His other suggestions include an extension of the timescale for the prosecution of those destroying evidence and resistance to the imposition of charges.
Mr Dunion will appear today before Holyrood’s Justice Committee to discuss his final report on the Freedom of Information.
McDonalds among the private bodies who might become subject to FoIA
Over 150 private bodies awarding qualifications including McDonald’s may become subject to Freedom of Information requests, BBC’s Martin Rosenbaum reports. If that happens, requests should only relate to their role as awarders of qualifications and wouldn’t extend to other areas.
The journalist also reports the Upper Tribunal is examining today Fish Legal’s appeal in a case involving three private water companies, Southern Water, Yorkshire Water and United Utilities. All companies claim they’re not covered by the Environmental Information Regulations as the campaign group claims.
The Ministry of Defence has come under heavy criticism after a Freedom of Information request exposed a list of 13 Scottish sites contaminated with potentially lethal radiation.
Fife’s Dalgety Bay, Moray’s RAF Kinloss, Argyll’s RAF Machrihanish base and the former Defence Aviation Repair Agency factory near Perth are the latest military sites left with “historic radium problems”, The Express on Sunday reports.
The Express states that most contamination is caused by radium sulphate paint, used in military equipment such as aircraft instrument panels to aid night visibility. Despite their environmental and health hazard, planes were buried as scrap while in other instances the material was dispersed as ash after incineration.
Last October Mike Weir MP, the SNP’s UK environment spokesman, had asked Defence Minister Andrew Robathan for a list of all locations where radium had been buried, to no avail.
After the recent FoIA revelations the Angus MP criticised the MoD, The Herald reported. The MP said: “The behaviour of the Ministry of Defence has been evasive and shifty. We need total transparency.”
The Express also mentions that the Scottish Sunday Express has already revealed that experts plan to investigative at least two more hotspots, including one next to a primary school, in Wishaw, Lanarkshire.
Scottish public CCTV cameras double over recent years
Figures obtained after Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Scotsman reveal Scotland as one of the most “surveillance-heavy” countries in the world, spending up to £8m to maintain them per year. The newspaper reports that there are currently 3,115 operating CCTV cameras across the country, while in 2003 there were 1,269.
New Scottish law brings more than 60 stalkers to court
More than 60 stalkers have been convicted in the first year of Scotland’s anti-stalking legislation, the Scotsman reports. The figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show more than 400 complaints against stalkers have been investigated by the police.
Number of drivers using mobile phones while on the wheel is rising
Freedom of Information requests submitted by Swiftcover.com, a motoring insurer, have revealed the number of drivers fined for using their mobiles while driving has risen to a new high, The Sunday Times reports. Figures released by 41 of 43 police authorities in England and Wales reveal the number of offenders who received a £60 fine and three penalty points in the 12 months to the end of August last year was 171,223, more than 4,000 above 2006’s record number.
A primary school governer has used FoIA to reveal that 23 of the 24 free schools which opened in September are taking only half the number of deprived children compared to other state schools in the country, the Guardian reports.
Under the act, the schools were forced to disclose that the percentage of children claiming free school meals was just 9.4% – around half of the 18% that claim nationally, according to Department for Education Statistics. To qualify for free school meals a child’s family must earn under £16,000.
The news contradicts the claim of education secretary Michael Gove, who said that free schools would empower working class families and improve education across the country’s poorest regions. Many of the schools are located in these areas but are failing to take representative numbers of children from deprived families.
The Guardian reports that the school governer and FoIA requester, Rachel Gooch, used the information she obtained to do further research.
“Gooch compared the intake of disadvantaged children at each of the free schools with the five nearest schools for pupils of a similar age group. She found that all but one of the free schools were taking fewer deprived pupils than average for their neighbouring schools.
“The data she received showed that on average, a quarter of children attending the five schools nearest to each of the free schools were eligible for subsidised lunches, compared with just one in 11 of the pupils at the free schools.
“At the West London Free School, founded by the journalist and author Toby Young, just over 23% of pupils are eligible for free lunches, compared with just over 32% in the five neighbouring schools. At Batley grammar school, a free school in Kirklees, just 4.3% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, compared with 19% in the five neighbouring schools.”
Scotland’s university principals feast on their institutions’ expense
The Scotsman has used Freedom of Information Act requests to reveal that while students are protesting over higher tuition fees, a number of university heads benefit from free private residencies as well as paid-for access to a string of exclusive clubs and societies. Among them are Principals Louise Richardson of St Andrews University and Dame Joan Stringer, of Edinburgh Napier who each enjoy a 1,000 per year membership at Athenaeum Club.
Leeds schools report thousands of racist incidents
Leeds schools have recorded 1,000 racist incidents during the last year, a FoIA investigation by the Yorkshire Evening Post has revealed. The newspaper reports that from 2010 to 2011, 577 incidents were recorded in primary schools and 409 in secondary schools. The incidents ranged from verbal abuses to threatening behaviour, physical assault, malicious phone calls and damage to property. The figure was a decline from the previous year when 1,323 incidents were reported.
An all-party parliamentary group, chaired by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie is asking for full disclosure of intelligence documents possibly implicating British officials in secret renditions of UK residents to Guantánamo Bay and other notorious jails.
The Guardian reports that an Information Tribunal is currently examining whether or not those documents should be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, as lawyers for the Foreign Office claim.
The newspaper also mentions that Tyrie’s parliamentary group is opposing the refusal of the FCO with the support of the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham.
The team asks for the release of documents relating to three cases: The rendition and ill-treatment of UK resident and Guantánamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, the FCO’s request to former US state department legal adviser John Bellinger to claim Washington opposed the disclosure of CIA information about Mohamed that was passed on to MI5 and MI6, and finally communications between Britain’s intelligence and CIA about Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, who were also held in Guantánamo Bay.
Ian Cobain, a journalist for the Guardian, told the tribunal that a pattern of allegation and denial followed by later acknowledgement that the allegations may have had substance after all “has been repeated several times over the last six years”. The case continues.
Doctor trainees’ rotas might ignore EU directive
FoIA replies relating to junior doctors’ rotas in NHS trusts had been brought into question by Bob Greatorex, the head of workforce planning and professional standards, it emerged today. The Telegraph reports 57 of the 77 trusts questioned replied to British Medical Journal Careers’ requests and although the data show all comply with the EU directive of a 48-hour limit, Mr Greatorex doubted its accuracy saying many trainees work extra hours not recorded under the system.
Scottish Executive’s secretary communications flooded with personal data instead of governmental issues
Sir Peter Housden seems more preoccupied with mundane hobbies, films and shopping than governmental issues, judging by his weekly updates to thousands of his staff. An FoIA request filed from The Telegraph, revealed that the Scottish Executive’s permanent secretary even received a complaint from a civil servant that he was not saying enough about his actual job.
Scottish First Minister criticised for ‘culture of secrecy’
Alex Salmond was brought under pressure last night for refusing to disclose information about any legal advice received pertaining to independent Scotland’s statutes in Europe, the Scotsman reports today. Following an FoIA request, the First Minister said according to the Ministerial Code of Conduct such advice is confidential, but a spokesman for the Scottish Labour party complained Mr Salmond was adopting a “culture or secrecy”. “The only thing stopping him from doing it may be that the Scottish Government hasn’t taken legal advice, or that it fatally undermines his case,” he said.
Carmarthenshire council spends £100,000 on private eyes
A freedom of information request to Carmarthenshire council revealed it has spent £100,000 on private detectives over the past three years, This is South Wales reports.