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DANGER OF TWO-TIER FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REGIME - UNION

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Unison, Scotland's public service union, today warned that the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill may mean that...
Unison, Scotland's public service union, today warned that the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill may mean that people, who rely on the private sector to provide their schools, hospitals and other services, cannot use the legislation to get information on them. The union also said that the law was unlikely to be effective unless resources were provided for the staff who will require to provide the information.

Chris Bartter (Unison's communications officer) was giving evidence to the Scottish parliament's justice 1 committee yesterday. He said:

'In order to avoid the creation of a two-tier FoI regime, the Bill must state clearly that its purpose is to cover all public service providers, and should include methods to ensure that everyone who provides public services has to account for them.'

The union, claims that many private sector and charitable service providers such as contractors maintaining Scotland's trunk roads and residential care charities, will only be covered by the law if ministers so decide.

Mr Bartter said:

'Whilst we welcome the main thrust of this legislation, the fact remains that only public authorities are currently subject to its provisions. There are a whole raft of bodies who may or may not be covered, dependent on ministerial decision.'

The union points out that the list of authorities covered excludes some key players.

'Social organisations as housing associations, local enterprise companies, social inclusion partnerships and the voluntary sector deliver peoples services using public money.' Mr Bartter said: 'They must be subject to the same obligations to give the public information as local authority housing departments, Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Tourist Board and health trusts.'

Unison is also concerned that the executive seems to be set to make no resources available to authorities to deliver the service. Mr Bartter went on:

'The policy memorandum to the Bill estimates that the delivery of FoI will cost between£2.5m -£4.8m pa, yet rather patronisingly suggest that this can all be provided from existing resources. This could mean that authorities are in no position to deliver the requested information as they haven't had the resources to set up the required systems.'

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