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FOI - Report on Information Requests Handling in the Scottish Executive January - June 2005

DescriptionFreedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 - Report on Information requests handling in the Scottish Executive January - June 2005
ISBN
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateOctober 28, 2005

Freedom of Information ( Scotland ) Act 2002

Report on information requests handling in the Scottish Executive

January - June 2005

Introduction

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOI(S)A) came into force on 1 January 2005. Under FOI(S)A, anybody may request information from a Scottish public authority which holds it and is entitled to be given it by the authority.

This report covers the first six months of FOI(S)A in force and relates to the handling by the Scottish Executive of requests received during the period 1 January 2005 - 1 July 2005 for information received under the Act. (The associated Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) also came into force on 1st January but numbers of requests under the Regulations have been low and are not separately analysed in this report.)

Content of report

1.Number of requests

2.Timeliness of responses

3.Outcome of requests

4.Use of exemptions

5.Internal reviews of requests

6.Appeals to the Scottish Information Commissioner

7.Conclusion

Annex 1 - Detailed Tables

Annex 2 - Scottish Executive disclosure log

Annex 3 - Brief comparison with UK State Departments

1. Number of requests

The provisions of FOI(S)A apply to all valid requests for information made to the Scottish Executive. Receiving and responding to requests for information is part of the normal business of the Scottish Executive and thousands of communications are received each year. Most requests for information are, therefore, handled routinely and not all are recorded or counted centrally.

For monitoring purposes, in line with the FOI(S)A Section 60 Code, certain requests are notified by recipients to, and logged by, the Executive's FOI Unit. This includes requests for information where, in the main, the requested information would not have been routinely provided prior to the coming into force of FOI(S)A. The scope of monitoring also includes requests where requested information is not held, where there are cost/fee implications or where requests might be considered vexatious.

[It is important to be aware that the detail provided in the report must be treated with caution. Request handling is not undertaken centrally which means that data may not all be complete. The report, therefore, simply provides a snapshot of the Executive's approach to FOI request handling in the first 6 months of compliance.]

During this period 1208 requests for information were logged by the FOI Unit. This report is based in the main on an analysis of 1022 requests received - 85% of the cases in this central record of requests. (NB some of the analysis is based on a smaller number of requests. This is the 953 requests remaining after invalid or withdrawn cases or cases handled by Executive agencies have been excluded. ) The numbers of requests received and centrally recorded in the second quarter were significantly lower than in the first quarter - 389 compared with 819.

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2. Timeliness of responses

FOI(S)A requires public authorities to respond to written requests for information as soon as possible, and in any event within 20 working days of receipt. Out of 953 requests, 734 (77%) of the Executive responses were sent within this required deadline. Of the 219 responses which were sent after the 20 day deadline, 137 (63%) were sent out under 10 days late. This means that 82 (8%) of the requests analysed suffered a significant delay in response time (more than 10 days late).

( See Annex 1 Table 4 )

(FOI(S)A, unlike the equivalent Act for England and Wales does not include powers for a permitted deadline extention where longer consideration of the public interest in disclosure or non-disclosure may be required).

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3. Outcome of requests

Of the 1022 requests analysed, 129 requests were for information which either the Executive does not hold or does not hold for the purposes of the Act as determined by Section 3 (2) of the Act. 59 requests were refused on the grounds that to comply with the requests would be in excess of the prescribed amount (£600). A number of the requests recorded were withdrawn or still await further clarification from the applicant. (See Annex 1 Table 2 a)

For the 762 resolvable requests for which the information requested is held by the Executive and it was considered for release, 507 (66%) of the requests resulted in new information being released with full disclosure occurring in 261 (34%) of these cases.

( See Annex 1 Table 2 b )

In cases where new information has been released, this information is progressively being collated and published on the Executive's website and listed in the disclosure log ( Recently Released Information. )

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4. Use of exemptions

Under FOI(S)A a public authority can refuse to provide requested information that it holds if the information falls within one or more of the categories of exempt information listed in Part 2 of the Act. One or more of the exemptions was applied to some or all of the information considered in 501 (66%) of the 762 resolvable requests where information was considered for release. The most commonly applied exemptions were those related to formulation of policy and effective conduct of public affairs (Sections 29 and 30). ( See Annex 1 Table 3 and bar chart )

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5. Internal reviews of requests

Applicants are able to ask a public authority for an "internal review" if they are not content with the public authority's initial decision on whether to release requested information. For this period 186 reviews of original decisions have been requested - so in 20% of cases the Executive has been asked to review the response to a request. In approximately 10% of the review cases the original decision was overturned either fully or in part. ( See Annex 1 Table 5 )

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6. Appeals to the Scottish Information Commissioner

Applicants who are still not content with the outcome of an internal review can make a formal appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner ("application for decision by Commissioner"). At end June 2005 42 Executive request responses had been appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner. (At end August 2005 the figure is 56) Due to the length of timescales allowed for requesting reviews/appeals it is difficult to be precise but it appears that approximately a third of the cases where a review was requested have subsequently been appealed. Overall, of the 1022 requests which were received by end June 2005 and where outcomes have been analysed, approximately 6% have gone to appeal. To end of August 2005 the SIC has made decisions in 3 of these appeal cases. The decisions were:

  • 006/2005 Mr Q and the Scottish Executive 30 June 2005
  • 015/2005 Mr John Hodgson, Chairman of the Skye Windfarm Action Group Ltd. and the Scottish Executive 21 July 2005
  • 019/2005 Mr Patterson and the Scottish Executive 10 August 2005

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7. Conclusion

Freedom of Information underpins a long-term cultural change towards greater openness across the Executive and the Scottish public sector as a whole. This will not be achieved overnight and it may be that this early data does not reflect the start of a long-term pattern. It clearly demonstrates, however, that people are exercising their new rights and that a wide range of information has been made available as a direct result of information requests. The FOI Unit will continue to monitor how the Executive is responding to requests for information and will produce further reports on activity during 2005. Reporting requirements will be reviewed at the end of 2005.

Scottish Executive FOI Unit

September 2005

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ANNEX 1 - Table 1

Number of requests centrally logged by the FOI Unit weekly in the period 1 January to 1 July 2005

The following graph plots the number of requests which have been notified to and logged by the FOI Unit on a weekly basis in the period 1 January to 1 July 2005.

Weekly requests Graph

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ANNEX 1 - Table 2

a) Breakdown of FOI requests 1 January to 1 July 2005

The following table provides an overall breakdown of the position with regard to the FOI requests which have been centrally logged by the FOI Unit in the period 1 January to 1 July 2005. Of the 1208 cases logged, analysis has been undertaken on the handling of 85% (1022) cases.

Jan - Mar

April - June

Total

1

Resolvable requests -information held and considered for release

(see Table 2 b) for detail on outcome)

544

218

762

74.5%

2

Refusal - upper cost limit (section 12)

55

4

59

5.8%

3

Refusal - fee notice issued (section 13) - not paid

1

0

1

0.1%

4

Information not held

100

29

129

12.6%

5

Vexatious

1

2

3

0.3%

6

Other (e.g. further clarification sought, invalid request or requests withdrawn)

49

19

68

6.7%

Totals

750

272

1022

100%



b) Breakdown of outcomes of the 762 resolvable requests

Of the 1022 requests analysed, 762 (74.5%) of these were resolvable requests - those where information was actually held and considered for release (i.e. excluding those where refusal was based on S12 Excessive cost of compliance). This table presents the decisions made with regard to these requests.

Jan - Mar

April - June

Total

1

Information released

179

82

261

34%

2

Information partially released, partially exempt

174

72

246

32%

3

Refusal - exemption applied

191

64

255

34%

Total

544

218

762

100%

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ANNEX 1 - Table 3

Use of Exemptions

The following table provides information on the Sections used in the application of exemptions in the 501 cases where exemptions were applied (255 refusal responses plus the 246 partial release responses.) NB The totals do not add up to 501 because a number of the responses sited more than one Section.

Section Number

Number of times Section cited in refusal

Number of times Section cited in partial refusal

Total number of times Section cited

Percentage of total use of Sections 25 to 41

Information otherwise accessible 25

26

17

43

7.03%

Prohibitions on disclosure 26

16

5

21

3.43%

Information intended for future publication 27

4

4

8

1.31%

Relations within the United Kingdom 28

16

20

36

5.88%

Formulation of Scottish Administration policy etc. 29

98

81

179

29.25%

Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs 30

66

84

150

24.51%

National security and defence 31

3

1

4

0.65%

International relations 32

8

3

11

1.80%

Commercial interests and the economy 33

10

24

34

5.56%

Investigation by Scottish public authorities and proceedings arising 34

1

1

2

0.33%

Law enforcement 35

5

4

9

1.47%

Confidentiality 36

12

34

46

7.52%

Court records, etc. 37

3

2

5

0.82%

Personal information 38

42

43

43

7.03%

Health, safety and the environment 39

1

2

3

0.49%

Audit functions 40

0

0

0

0.00%

Communications with Her Majesty etc. and honours 41

4

14

18

2.94%

Table 3 - Use of Exemptions (bar chart)

Use of Exemptions Bar Chart

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Table 4 - Requests by Department and timeliness of response

The following tables give the number of FOI requests received during January to March, and April to June broken down by individual Departments. This analysis is based on the

  • 750 processed requests which have been analysed for January to March
  • 272 processed requests which have been analysed for April to June

but excluding requests which were invalid or withdrawn or where SE agencies had lead responsibility.

The base figure for this table is, therefore, 953 requests

January - March

Department

Total number of requests by Department

Percentage of total requests

Number of requests answered within 20 working days

Percentage within 20 working days

Number of requests answered over 20 working days

Percentage over 20 working days

DD

35

5.0%

27

77.1%

8

22.9%

ED

143

20.4%

129

90.2%

14

9.8%

ERAD

62

8.9%

51

82.3%

11

17.7%

ETLLD

56

8.0%

49

87.5%

7

12.5%

FCSD

61

8.7%

52

85.2%

9

14.8%

HD

111

15.9%

79

71.2%

32

28.8%

JD

47

6.7%

45

95.7%

2

4.3%

LPS

53

7.6%

35

66.0%

18

34.0%

OPS

132

18.9%

71

53.8%

61

46.2%

SE

700

538

77 %

162

23%

April - June

Department

Total number of requests by Department

Percentage of total requests

Number of requests answered within 20 working days

Percentage within 20 working days

Number of requests answered over 20 working days

Percentage over 20 working days

DD

4

1.6%

2

50.0%

2

50.0%

ED

36

14.2%

32

88.9%

4

11.1%

ERAD

46

18.2%

37

80.4%

9

19.6%

ETLLD

28

11.1%

22

78.6%

6

21.4%

FCSD

29

11.5%

20

69.0%

9

31.0%

HD

48

19.0%

43

89.6%

5

10.4%

JD

12

4.7%

11

91.7%

1

8.3%

LPS

23

9.1%

8

34.8%

15

65.2%

OPS

27

10.7%

21

77.8%

6

22.2%

SE

253

196

77.5%

57

22.5%

January - June

Department

Total number of requests by Department

Percentage of total requests

Number of requests answered within 20 working days

Percentage within 20 working days

Number of requests answered over 20 working days

Percentage over 20 working days

DD

39

4.1%

29

74.3%

10

25.7%

ED

179

18.8%

161

89.9%

18

10.1%

ERAD

108

11.3%

88

81.4%

20

18.5%

ETLLD

84

8.8%

71

84.5%

13

15.4%

FCSD

90

9.4%

72

80%

18

20%

HD

159

16.7%

122

76.7%

37

23.2%

JD

59

6.2%

56

94.9%

3

5%

LPS

76

8.0%

43

56.5%

33

43.42%

OPS

159

16.7%

92

57.8%

67

43.3%

SE

953

734

77.0%

219

23.0%

Table 4 - Bar chart showing timeliness of response

(The figures provided here are slightly different from those in the previous table as they include 15 cases handled by Scottish Executive Agencies)

The bar chart shows the:

  • numbers of requests responded to within 20 days of receipt of the request
  • numbers of requests responded to within 20-30 days of receipt of the request
  • numbers of requests responded to later than 30 days after receipt of the request

Response Times Bar Chart

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ANNEX 1 - Table 5

Internal Reviews

The following table provides information on the requests for internal reviews of FOI response decisions which have been made in connection with requests which were originally received in January to June 2005.

As with Table 4 the data below is based on the 953 validated FOI requests which were analysed.

This analysis is based on the

  • 750 processed requests which have been analysed for January to March
  • 272 processed requests which have been analysed for April to June

but excluding requests which were invalid or withdrawn or where SE agencies had lead responsibility.

The base figure for this table is, therefore 953 requests

186 requests for a review of the original response to a request have been received.

Reviews are, therefore, being requested in 20% of cases.

Outcome

Number of reviews requested where the original request was received

Jan - Mar

Number of reviews requested where the original request was received

Apr-Jun

Total

Percentage of total number of reviews

Number of reviews with unknown outcome to date

9

9

18

9.68%

Original decision upheld

132

17

149

80.11%

Original decision overturned in part

5

5

10

5.38%

Original decision overturned

9

0

9

4.84%

186

100%

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ANNEX 2

Scottish Executive disclosure log

The Executive's policy is that where we release information in response to a FOI request we recognise that it will usually be of interest to the wider public in addition to the original applicant. Executive staff are, therefore, advised to publish information which they have released to an applicant as soon as possible via the Scottish Executive website.

The Recently Released Information log provides a list of the information which has been released in response to FOI requests.

See http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Government/FOI/19260/20126

There are currently 120 separately logged items on the FOI disclosure log (as at end August 2005). It is important to note that information included on the disclosure log might have been disclosed in response to a number of similar individual information requests received around the same time but it will only appear once on the disclosure log.

The information published within the disclosure log is wide-ranging and includes information on the following topics:

· Staff employed by the Executive (e.g. details of secondments to and from the Executive)

· Costs incurred by Ministers (e.g. hospitality and office running costs)

· Details of official Ministerial engagements

· Information relating to Bute House

· The Holyrood Building Project (e.g. information on Lord Fraser's appointment as Chair of the Project)

· EU Agricultural grants and subsidy arrangements

· The operation of Freedom of Information within the Scottish Executive Waiting times for breast, lung, colorectal and ovarian cancers

· The Healthy Respect National Health Demonstration Project

· The establishment of the Cultural Commission.

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ANNEX 3

Comparison with UK State Departments

The DCA published a full report on the first quarter of FOI implementation in central government on 23 June 2005 and on the second quarter at the end of September. The data provided in the first report demonstrates that the Executive experience of the first months of FOI compares reasonably closely to that of the UK State Departments. For example:

  • UK departments of state received around 7,700 "non-routine" requests during the first quarter of 2005 compared to 819 for the Scottish Executive.
  • The Executive responded to 77% of the requests within the 20-day deadline, for UK State Departments the figure was 64%.
  • For State Departments requested information was released fully or partially in 65% of cases which is the same as the Executive. However for UK State Departments requests were granted in full in 51% of cases compared with 33% for the Executive.

It is, however, important to be aware that there are some key differences in the way the UK and Scottish Acts work, and drawing direct comparisons is not necessarily meaningful.

The full reports are available at :

Department for Constitutional Affairs - Freedom of Information - Implementing the Act - Statistics

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