THE Scottish Government, health boards and local authorities have been criticised by the information tsar, who has taken the unusual step of laying a special report before Holyrood expressing her concern.
Rosemary Agnew has decided to name and shame the authorities who are most guilty of refusing to comply with the rules and timescales on Freedom of Information requests.
Just five authorities were responsible for more than 50 per cent of the cases last year where applicants' requests were not handled within the required time.
The Scottish Government and NHS Highland were the worst offenders this year. The others in the top five which failed to respond within the rules and timescale were East Dunbartonshire and Highland councils and the Scottish Prison Service.
The previous year the Scottish Government and NHS Highland also featured in the top five. This year St Andrew's House was responsible for 26.9 per cent of valid appeals to the Commissioner, down from 29.4 per cent the previous year.
Ms Agnew, the Scottish Information Commissioner, said: "People ask for information when they need it. FoI law is designed to get them the information they are entitled to promptly. When authorities don't respond to requests they are effectively denying an individual's rights. This is not only stressful and damaging to requesters; it damages public confidence in authorities and the FoI regime itself. This is why I've laid today's report to draw the Scottish Parliament's attention to the issues and extent of a problem which, left unchecked, could undermine the high regard in which our FoI regime is held."
The Commissioner added: "Every failure to respond is a denial of someone's statutory right to information." Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "This is a significant move from the Information Commissioner which comes only weeks after I highlighted the Scottish Government's unwillingness to publish their information on set up costs."
The problem is not typical of all authorities. Just 34 out of more than 200 Scottish public authorities were the subject of appeals about failure to respond last year.
Ian Black, director of finance and shared services at East Dunbartonshire Council said, it had taken steps to improve the way it was dealing with FoI requests. A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We have a good overall record in responding on time to FoI requests - last year we received a record 2,011 requests, 79 per cent more than in 2006, and provided 74 per cent of responses to those requests on time - this is compared to only 61 per cent of responses which were provided on time in 2006."