Scottish ministers have been accused of “stifling scrutiny” after figures revealed fewer than a third of freedom of information (FOI) responses were returned in full and on time.
The Scottish Government issued a full response within the 20-day timescale for 1,434 FOI requests in 2023, according to Scottish Labour figures.
However, last year 4,459 were received – meaning approximately 68% were either late, refused or redacted.
The Scottish Government has said it is necessary for some exemptions to be applied, including where personal data needs to be withheld.
It follows the Scottish Information Commissioner revealing earlier this month he would launch an investigation into the Scottish Government’s retention of informal messaging following scrutiny over deleted WhatsApps at the UK Covid Inquiry.
Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon and other senior ministers and officials deleted messages from the time of the pandemic, arguing it was Scottish Government guidance.
It meant the information could not be provided to the inquiry, or be revealed through FOI laws.
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Dame Jackie Baillie has criticised the Scottish Government’s “rotten culture of secrecy”.
Dame Jackie said: “Once again the SNP is treating the public with contempt and attempting to stifle scrutiny.
“Time and time again we see the SNP’s disregard for transparency on display, from their woeful record on FOIs to the shameful destruction of evidence during the Covid pandemic.
“Scotland deserves better than (the) rotten culture of secrecy and cover-up this SNP Government has created.
“Scottish Labour will strengthen FOI laws and clean up bolstering government accountability and oversight.”
Scottish Labour MSP Katy Clark is set to introduce a Freedom of Information Reform (Scotland) Bill to Holyrood after gaining cross-party support.
The proposals include extending coverage to all bodies delivering public services and would also see increased accountability by introducing a statutory duty for information to be proactively published.
Minister for parliamentary business George Adam said: “The Scottish Government is currently responding to 97% of FOI requests within the statutory deadline, despite an increase of 66% in requests since 2019, to over 5,000 requests in 2023.
“Inevitably, it is sometimes necessary for organisations’ responses to apply the exemptions – as Parliament agreed when passing the legislation, for example to withhold personal data such as names.
“Scotland has the most open and far-reaching Freedom of Information legislation in the UK and the Scottish Government remains committed to our obligations under the Act to ensure openness and transparency.”