Secret Scotland

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Secret Scotland
« on: June 25, 2018, 09:24:29 AM »
https://www.pressreader.com/uk/scottish-daily-mail/20180622/281479277139523

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THE Scottish Daily Mail today launches a major campaign exposing the culture of secrecy dominating every area of public life – bankrolled by the taxpayer.
Our wide-ranging investigation comes after it emerged that Scottish Government special advisers had interfered with requests for politically sensitive information.
But the rapid spread of ‘secret Scotland’ has seen quangos, local authorities and other bodies attempt to suppress or distort material that should be freely available.
An army of well-paid special advisers and press officers has been at the forefront of costly spin operations – financed by public cash – aimed at keeping taxpayers in the dark.
Last night, Scottish Tory MSP Edward Mountain said: ‘This investigation shows a secrecy culture that began within government appears to have spread to other areas of the public sector – and that is deeply concerning.’
And, writing in today’s Mail, Lord Wallace, architect of freedom of information (FOI) laws, says: ‘Despite their claims of openness, the record of the SNP in government is surely one which takes its lead from Tony Blair, who confessed to
having been “a naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop” in allowing the “dangerous mistake” of FOI legislation to go forward.
‘But just as I believed action was needed to change culture, and bring about more openness in government, so the reverse process is promoted by officials and public bodies, taking their lead from the top.’
Findings from our investigation into the extent of ‘secret Scotland’ include:
Nearly £1million spent on Scottish Government special advisers who play a role in deleting politically embarrassing data from FOI requests;
A refusal by prison chiefs to publish a report on a convicted killer who nearly bludgeoned a woman to death while he was out of jail on home leave;
Public bodies attempting to charge for answering FOI queries with threatened levies of up to £40,000;
A veil of secrecy drawn over heavily redacted official reports into child protection failings that have led to cases of abuse, neglect and murder;
Police Scotland refusing to disclose the number of unresolved homicides – despite boasting of high ‘clear-up’ rates.
The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FOISA) was introduced in 2002 to allow access to data held by public authorities, which must respond to requests within 20 working days.
In one case, the Mail asked the University of Edinburgh for information on courses where students are given ‘trigger warnings’ about potentially upsetting content.
The rise of this trend has led to concern about political correctness stifling intellectual debate. But the university attempted to charge £37,196 for a response, arguing that ‘to establish the location of relevant information, we would have to contact all members of our teaching staff’.
An FOI ‘compliance officer’ at the university said this would take ‘over 1,200 hours of work’.
The institution was ultimately forced to comply with the request after the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) intervened.
In another case, the Mail asked the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) for a critical incident review into the case of Robbie McIntosh, a convicted killer who was jailed in February for attempting to murder Linda McDonald in Dundee while on home leave from prison.
But the SPS rejected the request, arguing that releasing the information may ‘prejudice’ ongoing investigations by other agencies.
In another example of official secrecy, the Mail asked Police Scotland for information about the total number of unresolved homicides. The FOI request was rejected by a ‘lead disclosure officer’, who said publishing the information ‘at this stage would be detrimental to any ongoing investigations’ – despite the fact we were not seeking specific information about individual cases.
Even on less serious issues, police secrecy appears to have increased.
Last week, a press officer refused to confirm to a Mail reporter if a road near the scene of a murder inquiry at Kirriemuir, Angus, had been closed.
When it was pointed out that a local newspaper’s website was carrying a photograph of the location showing a ‘Police – Road Closed’ sign, he said: ‘Well, I guess the Courier must have gone out on it.’ The official then put the phone down. A recent SIC report on FOIs concluded that ministers and special advisers had regularly tried to influence the release of information they did not want in the public domain.
Following an investigation, it said politicians, party researchers and
‘Unjustified delays or interference’
journalists are ‘expressly made subject to a different process for clearance than other requester groups’.
Naomi McAuliffe, of Amnesty International, said: ‘FOI is an essential part of a functioning, democratic society... this essential resource must be readily available to all without unjustified delays or interference from government.’
Last week, the Mail published a report by chartered accountants condemning ‘poor governance’ and ‘lack of transparency’ at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).
The information had been requested five weeks before, but was not provided. A redacted summary was finally released to the Mail – but only after we told the quango that it had already been issued to a member of the public.
The SPA’s press office blamed ‘human error’ for the confusion.
In another example of the climate of secrecy, the findings of Significant Case Reviews (SCR) into child protection failings – carried out by local authorities and other agencies – have been released only in partial form. The Care Inspectorate has warned that some SCR reports are ‘lacking in detail and rigour’.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘Scotland already has the most open and far-reaching FOI laws in the UK and this Government has a track record of improving transparency.
‘FOI legislation has previously been extended to a range of arm’s length organisations, private prison contractors and grant-aided and independent special schools.
‘We are considering a draft order extending... coverage of the FOISA to organisations undertaking functions of a public nature.’






 
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