Concern over ferries funding shows why FOI reform is essential says Labour MSP

Ministers have been accused of using loopholes in legislation to get around disclosing additional costs.

Concern over ferries funding shows why FOI reform is essential says Labour MSP FMPG

Reforming freedom of information (FOI) laws will restore transparency after ministers were accused of using loopholes to avoid disclosing additional ferry costs, a Scottish Labour MSP has said.

West of Scotland MSP Katy Clark won the right to introduce her Freedom of Information Reform (Scotland) Bill to Holyrood after cross-party support was received earlier this month.

It proposes extending coverage to all bodies delivering public services, and services of a public nature, and would also see increased accountability by introducing a statutory duty for information to be proactively published.

Ms Clark said the legislative proposals are even more essential after claims ministers were “skirting accountability” on the release of information regarding the under-fire construction of two ferries.

The Herald newspaper revealed the Scottish Government entered into 10 confidentiality clauses with external private companies concerning the state-owned and publicly funded shipyard Ferguson Marine.

Ministers have refused to set out the extra costs involved in continuing to complete one of the two vessels under construction at the shipyard.

The construction of the two ferries has been hit by extensive delays and significant cost overruns.

The Scottish Government told the Herald the public interest in publishing the information was “outweighed by the public interest in maintaining a productive relationship” between ministers and Ferguson Marine.

Ms Clark said: “Transparency should be a condition for any company receiving public money.

“Ferguson Marine is wholly owned by the state and so it is utterly scandalous the Scottish Government feels it can simply flout its responsibilities for the sake of ‘productive relationships’.

“The continued skirting of accountability in relation to the ongoing ferries fiasco just illustrates what is eminently clear to anyone who has ever sought to obtain information from public bodies in this country – our FOI scheme is simply not fit for purpose.

“Taxpayers have a right to know about how their funds are used. My Bill will improve their right to know by finally closing loopholes, introducing a statutory duty for bodies to proactively publish information, and making FOI fit for the modern day.”

The Scottish Government said earlier this week that Ferguson Marine had not consented to the release of the information, with the disclosure therefore likely to “undermine trust” in the relationship.

The statement added: “In turn it makes it likely that this, and similar businesses, would be reluctant to engage with the Scottish Government on such matters in the future to the detriment of the Scottish economy and employment.”

The Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee has also been probing the use of non-disclosure agreements.

The Scottish Government has been asked for additional comment.

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