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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Freedom of Information Bill

Back in Parliament today to brief MSPs ahead of tomorrow's debate on the Freedom of Information Bill. Openness and transparency in public life is the hallmark of a democratic society and Scotland has been slipping behind in FoI best practice for some years.

Our key concern is to get the scope of FoI extended to all those organisations that deliver public services. The growth of arms length organisations from councils, private and voluntary sector contractors means that there are two tier standards for the public right to know. If your service comes from a public sector provider you have the right to information. If the very same service comes from a private or voluntary sector provider, you don't. That cannot be right and needs to be changed.

I illustrated our case with our extensive FoI work on PPP/PFI. After a long battle we got much of the documentation, but not all. For example, Scottish Water and the government say key documents can't be found. However, I doubt if the contractors for the problematic sewage plants have lost their copy. This matters because as a result of our research we discovered that the taxpayer spent £2.1bn more on PFI schemes than they would have done if these projects had used conventional finance. And it's not just an historical issue. The Scottish Government has a current £2.5bn PPP/PFI programme.

Credit to Carole Ewart and the Scottish Freedom of Information Campaign for all their work on this issue. There is cross party support on this issue and Willie Rennie MSP chaired today's event. We don't always agree with the Lib Dem's these days, but they have a consistently positive record on FoI.

I do hope that the new minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, takes a fresh look at the government's position on this issue. They claim to support some extension to the scope of FoI, but have done nothing about it. We have had three different consultations in recent years. Now, I am not surprisingly a big fan of consultation, but we are all consulted out on this issue. Now is the time for action.

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