The National:

THE Scottish Tories have claimed the Scottish Government is “routinely failing” to meet the legal deadline for responding to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests – but embarrassingly cited figures which appear to show the opposite.

The news comes after the Scottish Tories put in a request to learn the "mean, median and maximum response times for an FOI to the Scottish Government" between October 2021 and October 2022.

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Under UK law, a public body has “up to 20 working days” to respond to an FOI request like this.

The government's response – which the Tories have shared with the Scottish press – shows that the mean response time is 23 days. There is no distinction drawn between a working day and a normal one, meaning this average response time is actually below the “20 working days” legal limit.

Furthermore, the median response time – which the Tories omitted from their press release – was just 19 days. Even without the working day distinction, this is within the legal timeframe.

And the FOI request that's taken the longest to conclude? According to the information obtained by the Tories, that one is at 235 days and still counting. It's currently under review.

And what is the Tory government's FOI record like?

Interestingly, both the UK and Scottish Governments already publish data on the percentage of FOI requests which they manage to respond to on time.

The UK Government’s most recent data, published on December 14, covers the months of July, August, and September 2022. It states that during that three-month period “85% of requests were responded to in time”.

The Scottish Government actually had a stronger record of hitting the 20-working-day target over that same period. Data on its website shows that 90% of FOI requests in July were responded to on time, 88% were in August, and 85% were in September.

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With that in mind, here is what Scottish Conservative MSP Roz McCall had to say about the Edinburgh government’s FOI response record: “These wait times are unacceptable and unjustifiable.

“The SNP always talk a good game on transparency, but their actions tell a very different story. The purpose of FOI legislation is to enable journalists and members of the public to hold those in authority to account.

“But it’s clear from these statistics that these efforts are being thwarted by an SNP government wedded to a secrecy culture.”

She added: “The sad and indefensible truth is that Nicola Sturgeon leads a government addicted to secrecy.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland has the most open and far-reaching Freedom of Information legislation in the UK and the Government remains committed to our obligations under the Act to ensure openness and transparency.

“There has been a steep increase in the volume and complexity of FOI requests to almost 5000 cases in 2022, and this represents an increase of approximately 50% over the last three years. Our monthly response rates are routinely published and the Government’s performance remains comparable to the wider Scottish public sector.

“We are working at pace to deliver the actions in our FOI Improvement Plan, including achieving the target of answering 95% of requests on time.”

The Scottish Conservatives were approached for comment.