Alex Cole-Hamilton: FOI laws should be extended

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THE right to access information relating to vital public services has gone backwards in the last nine years, says Alex Cole-Hamilton

AS a parent, I know that there are few relationships more important than the one between mums, dads and schools. We trust teachers to look after our children when we are not there and they do a fantastic job. What few of us think about when we are at the gate is that the school buildings themselves might not be safe.

The closure of 17 schools across Edinburgh is truly shocking. Liberal Democrats on the council opposed the private finance deal which paid for the new schools to be built, but there should be no room for doubt here. Every building that is put up in Scotland should be safe no matter how it is paid for.

We need answers over how this was allowed to happen. But one of the problems here is that the companies involved are not subject to Freedom of Information law. These businesses are providing public services that our children rely on. I do not think it is too much to ask that the public should be able to ask questions to ensure that corners are not cut.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto included a clear commitment to extending FOI rules to contractors who maintain our roads, who work on our hospitals and, yes, who build our schools. This will shine a light on the way that they work and let us find out how good a job they are really doing.

Eighty-one per cent of Scots asked whether they would support such a move in one 2014 poll backed our plan. But since then the SNP has done nothing.

The Scottish Information Commissioner has confirmed that under the SNP our right to information has gone backwards. The SNP has been in power for nine years now but it has been timid in extending FOI legislation, only twice making minor adjustments.

The work that these companies do is crucial to schools and hospitals staying open and operating efficiently. For Liberal Democrats the position is clear. In exchange for taxpayers cash it is fair that the public should be able to establish whether they are getting value for money or being short changed.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Lib Dem candidate for Edinburgh Western