Wednesday, June 20, 2018

DEAL AXES TRUTH: Scottish Ministers avoid probe of undermining Freedom of Information requests as political deal sidelines report revealing secret two-tier FOI regime

Holyrood deal blocks probe of Ministers FOI misuse. THE Scottish Government has avoided an independent investigation into a deliberate policy by Ministers to mishandle and undermine Freedom of Information requests.

Earlier today, demands for an independent review of how Scottish Ministers deliberately mishandle FOI requests from journalists & the public were thwarted after the Scottish Government struck a deal with the Liberal Democrats against a Scottish Labour motion calling for a probe.

Now, after months of work by the Scottish Information Commissioner’s Office on a report into the Scottish Government’s abuses of Freedom of Information laws (FOISA), the widely criticised anti-transparency attitude of Scottish Ministers will instead result in a ‘consultation’ on Libdem proposals to extend FOI coverage to private contractors providing services to the public sector.

However, the highly critical report published by the Scottish Information Commissioner earlier this month, found Scottish Ministers are operating a secret two-tier FoI regime – which deliberately & consistently obstructs the release of any information which is likely to embarrass them.

The report also found that journalists, MSPs and their researchers were subject to extra scrutiny, leading to deliberate delays (sometimes of many months) in requests being handled, despite the law saying the FoI system should be blind.

There is also anecdotal evidence in recent media reports that the Scottish Government’s anti-transparency attitude towards Freedom of Information compliance has trickled down to almost every single Scottish Public authority – including Police Scotland, the Crown Office & other key justice related agencies.

Today, during the Holyrood debate on calls for an independent probe of Scottish Ministers & their misuse of FOI legislation, parliamentary business minister Joe FitzPatrick agreed the deal with the LibDems instead of a fully independent probe into Scottish Ministers.

Mr Fitzpatrick said: “Against a backdrop of an ever-changing public service delivery landscape, where services traditionally provided by public authorities are now being provided by the third sector or private contractors, I'm conscious there are increasing demands to look again at the scope of coverage of the legislation.”

The full debate can be viewed online here:

Debate: Review of Government FOI Handling and Record Keeping - 20 June 2018

Readers may also be interested in a retired journalist’s petition to bring a guarantee of honesty to Freedom of Information legislation, after it was found public authorities were distorting and in some cases, providing dishonest information in response to Freedom of Information requests.

Video footage of the proposal to the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee in April 2014, by retired Scotsman journalist William Chisholm MBE, can be viewed here:

Petition PE01512 Amendments to the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002 Scottish Parliament

However, and somewhat surprisingly, Rosemary Agnew - who was at the time, the Scottish Information Commissioner - and is now currently serving as the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman - blocked the attempt to bring a guarantee of honesty to Freedom of Information responses.

Video footage of Rosemary Agnew’s evidence to the Petitions Committee and her position against addressing issues of honesty in Freedom of Information responses, can be viewed here:

Scottish Information Commissioner Evidence to MSPs on Petition PE1512 6th May 2014

A full history of the work & report by the current Scottish Information Commissioner on the Scottish Government’s policy of undermining Freedom of Information requests, can be found here on the SIC website - which has published the following details:

Intervention 201702106: Scottish Government 

Intervention Report: Assessment Phase

On 13 June 2018 the Commissioner published his report following the assessment phase of his intervention into the Scottish Government's FOI practice and performance. The full report is available to download below.

The report details the findings of the Commissioner's extensive assessment. These include:

  • It is an important principle of FOI law that, in most cases, it should not matter who asks for information. The practice of referring requests for clearance by Ministers simply because they come from journalists, MSPs and researchers is inconsistent with that principle.
  • The Scottish Government's FOI policies and procedures are not clear enough about the role of special advisers in responding to FOI requests.
  • The Scottish Government takes longer to respond to journalists' FOI requests than other requests, but in only one case did the Commissioner find evidence that delay was deliberate.
  • The Scottish Government's FOI practice has improved significantly over the last year, following the Commissioner's first intervention: average response times to all requests, including journalists' requests have reduced.
  • The Commissioner makes seven recommendations for further specific improvements to: clearance procedures; quality assurance of FOI responses; training; case handling and case records management; monitoring FOI requests and review procedures.

This assessment included:

  • Statistical analysis of data from 7,318 FOI requests received by the Scottish Government between December 2014 and December 2017
  • Inspection of 104 individual Scottish Government FOI case files
  • Examination of 87 appeals to the Commissioner about the Scottish Government's handling of FOI requests
  • Review of the Scottish Government's FOI guidance and procedures
  • Face-to-face interviews with 31 Scottish Government officials and four Cabinet Secretaries.

The Commissioner requires the Scottish Government to develop an action plan (for his approval) by 13 September 2018. The Commissioner will monitor and review the implementation of the action plan.

Read the Report:

Scottish Government Intervention - Assessment Report (PDF - 321 kB)


In November 2017 the Commissioner confirmed that he would be undertaking a further intervention into the Scottish Government's FOI performance. The Commissioner's letter to the Minister for Parliamentary Business provides background to the intervention.

Invitation to journalists to provide further information

On 13 December 2017, the Commissioner issued the invitation below to the signatories of a letter sent by journalists in May 2017 to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. He invited them to provide further evidence to help him frame accurately the assessment phase of the intervention.

The invitation provides useful information about the scope of the intervention and a list of the questions the assessment phase will focus on.

Invitation to provide further evidence

We will publish a summary of the responses to this invitation as soon as possible after the closing date for submissions (12 January 2018).

Terms of the intervention

The Commissioner wrote to the Minister on 2 February 2018 to set out the aims of the intervention, the methodology for the assessment phase and the questions the intervention will explore.

The assessment phase is due to begin at the end of February 2018.

2018 02 02 Commissioner's letter to Minister for Parliamentary Business

Correspondence about the intervention

On 8 February 2018 Tavish Scott MSP wrote to the Commissioner about the intervention. You can read the exchange of correspondence below.

2018 02 08 Letter from Tavish Scott MSP to Commissioner

 2018 02 15 Letter from Commissioner to Tavish Scott MSP

Previous articles by Diary of Injustice on Freedom of Information issues, including investigations by the Scottish Information Commissioner can be found here: Reports & investigations on Freedom of Information disclosures in the legal sector & public authorities in Scotland


Anonymous said...

and what happens now after the report? bugger all probably
comes down to buying people off so they can do as hey please allover again

Anonymous said...

Tavish Scott - a Libdem who charged the taxpayer £979 a month in interest payments on his mortgage and £1920 a year council tax writes to the Scottish info Commissioner wants an investigation then HIS party the LibDems block any investigation.

Obviously the deal between the SNP and Libdems was done before yesterday's debate you can tell by the reactions this was all done and dusted before the report was even written.

And getting round to this report of the info commissioner was he allowed to investigate and write what he wanted or did he have to get Chairman Sturgeon's permission to cross every T and leave out all the real details of what the Scottish gov are doing to freedom of information?

There were probably so many calls between the special advisers lawyers and other hangers on lobbying the sic not to write this or that and surprise there is to be no investigation because the mortgage swilling Libdems did a back door deal with the SNP.

Anonymous said...

Tavish Scott and his mortgage of £1000 a month.Did all of you enjoy paying Tavish Scott's mortgage and £1900 council tax?

Revealed: more MSPs benefit from Holyrood property gravy train

By Scottish Political Editor Paul Hutcheon

A Scottish Executive minister is charging the public nearly £1000 a month in mortgage interest payments to help him buy a £380,000 house in Edinburgh.

Tavish Scott, the transport minister, has doubled the amount he bills the taxpayer for the property perk despite making a £36,000 profit last year on another flat bought with help from the public purse.

He has previously claimed rent on a flat which at the time was owned by his sister.

The revelations are further blows for the widely discredited Edinburgh Accommodation Allowance.

The parliamentary scheme allows MSPs to either claim mortgage interest payments on a property in the capital, or to rent, or to stay in a hotel.

One of the biggest winners from the scheme appears to be Scott, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland, who is responsible for Scotland’s transport network.

Land registry documents show that most MSPs have used the allowance to buy small flats in central Edinburgh costing between £80,000 and £100,000. But Scott has taken advantage of the generous system by purchasing a house last year in Morningside worth £380,000, on a mortgage of £265,000.

Parliamentary records show he is now billing the public £979 a month in interest payments on his mortgage – the highest charge of any MSP. Scott is also entitled to claim the £1920 council tax on his new band-G house.

An identical property for sale in the same street, inviting offers over £350,000, has three bedrooms, a “lovely private garden”, and a conservatory and patio.

The purchase of the house is only part of the LibDem minister’s use of the accommodation allowance.

The MSP bought his first property through the scheme in 2002, a £112,000 flat at Lower London Road sold to him by his sister. Figures show he claimed around £500 a month in mortgage payments for the property. He sold the flat last year for £148,000, pocketing £36,000 in profit. This allowed him to buy the much bigger property in Morningside.

This purchase coincided with Scott’s changed personal circumstances. By 2005, he was separated from his wife and dating BBC journalist Kirsten Campbell. The electoral roll shows a “Kirsten Campbell” is registered at the new property.

The minister is now charging the public almost double the amount he charged for his previous flat, up from £500 to £979 a month.

Scott has also left himself open to criticism regarding his rental arrangements prior to buying his first taxpayer-funded flat in 2002. That property was bought by Scott’s sister in 2000 – just months after her brother was elected to Holyrood – and sold to him two years later. However, council records show a Tavish H Scott was on the electoral roll for this flat in 2001. The LibDem MSP was claiming rent for staying in his sister’s property.

Scott, a business studies graduate, earns around £50,000 for representing Shetland, while ministers are entitled to a further £39,000. He has claimed more than £50,000 in Edinburgh Accommodation Allowance payments since 1999.

Tavish Scott last night said of his property dealings: “I have followed the rules that are set down for all MSPs. I am not going to comment on anything to do with this.”

Asked whether he billed the public for renting his sibling’s flat before buying her property, he said: “I did rent from my sister.”

The allowance’s negative publicity recently prompted first minister Jack McConnell to call for a review of the scheme. A source close to the first minister said yesterday: “His position hasn’t changed. He thinks there is, at best, public confusion and, at worst, public concern about the scheme.”

Anonymous said...

So four years after Mr. Chisolm's petition nothing has changed and the SNP re determined to see nothing does.

Anonymous said...

The comment about Tavish Scott and his mortgage cash is very interesting and probably highly relevant to what happened next in this plot to stop an independent investigation into the Scottish Government.

I remember he was also a minister in the toxic Labour LibDem Scottish Executive which was equally as poisonous as Sturgeon and her mob are now to Scotland.

Poor little Scotland always betrayed the most by her own people who rise to power and then line their own pockets buy properties and get rich from the people.

Disgusting or what.

Anonymous said...

so the entire foi investigation by the SIC and the friendly letters between them and Tavish Scot was started by an msp with an agenda who used taxpayers cash to buy a big house while everyone else is thrown out of theirs and probably charged lots of other bills to taxpayers and then his own party blocks the parliament from investigating the same foi subject Scott originally waned the commissioner to investigate?


Anonymous said...

LOL after doing searches on Tavish Scott and the BBC now I know why they didnt bother to cover his mortgage expenses

Some interesting facts about Tavish here

Just the type of guy you would expect to lead a charge against the Scottish Government on Freedom of Information and then for the Liberal Democrats to block any further action.

So were all those journos who signed the letter on FOI led up the garden path by the man who charged us to pay for his properties and the council tax??

Anonymous said...

So much for 'openness and transparency'. No surprise really given the disgraceful obstruction and wilful delay which has been employed to hinder the progress of your petition......FOR THE LAST 6 YEARS!

The more I see of the 'Nikkla' and SNP the more I am convinced they are a useless waste of space.

Anonymous said...

Scottish wealth worth 1 trillion they say

Then some shit of a lawyer sees your house and wants it and then his corrupt friends in the judiciary hand it to him on a plate along with the rest of your belongings and family.

If you foi for any of it Agnew and her friends will see you find out nothing or given dishonest answers as they can lie as they please in freedom of information replies

Scots' wealth 'worth a trillion pounds'
22 June 2018

The amount of wealth owned by Scots households has broken through the £1 trillion mark, following increases in property values and pension pots.

That's £1,000,000,000,000, or a million million pounds.

It is more than five times the value of the nation's economic output in one year.

But according to new research, household wealth is very unevenly spread. It is nearly twice as unequal as inequality in income levels.

The Resolution Foundation, a London-based economic analysis and think tank, has published a report showing that a quarter of Scots have savings of less than £500.

That is true of 22% of households across the UK.

It has called for the tax system to be used to re-allocate wealth, starting with reform of council tax.

The report, called The £1 Trillion Pie, argues for more focus on how wealth is spread, warning that there are big imbalances between regions of the country, and a growing problem of imbalances between generations.

Using figures from 2014 to 2016, the median Scottish household - with half the country more wealthy and one half less so - was found to have £237,000 in wealth.

That compares with £259,000 for Britain as a whole.

Anonymous said...

I did wonder about the headlines in relation to this Foi intervention/investigation so thanks to your commenters for confirming the faux outrage at Holyrood and how Sturgeon got away with it once again.

The way Scotland is governed/viewed on the international markets is much worse than pre '99 devolution.

Most/all of the investment figures rolled out by Scotgov are false.It is almost impossible to attract long term legitimate investors unless their proposal is guaranteed with public funds.You must know this yourself by now given your knowledge of how the legal profession is carried by legal aid and public contracts.