Several months ago, I wrote in my column about the need to reform Freedom of Information legislation in Scotland (or FOI) and why I was intending to a launch a member’s bill on the issue.

I have now launched a consultation, with a view to drafting the bill in the Scottish Parliament if genuine reforms aren’t forthcoming from the Scottish Government.

Most people who have heard of FOI agree with it in principle. But few people are aware of the extent to which it affects virtually every area of our politics and how our society is run.

Here in Scotland, FOI is enshrined in law and it means you have the right to request information from any public authority and they need a very good reason not to give you it.

That includes North Ayrshire Council, Ayrshire & Arran Health Board and a raft of other public bodies.

But what happens when you ask for information from a private company with a public contract? What do you do when you’re told information is commercially confidential? And why can it take weeks or even months to receive a response when you make a request?

I believe the law we currently have is out of date when it comes to answering these questions.

A committee report in the Scottish Parliament recently found there were significant areas requiring improvement.

In Scotland today, we have around 130 “arms-length organisations” receiving public money to run public services.

Take private care homes, for example, where so many people have lost relatives due to the pandemic over the past two years. And yet these families have struggled to obtain even basic information about their loved ones as these companies are entirely exempt from FOI.

Or consider disabled people in this country, who are left in the dark on decisions affecting them because many of their services are in the private or charity sectors.

I believe FOI should follow the public pound, which is why I am calling for FOI to apply to every provider of every taxpayer-funded service.

I am also calling for new statutory FOI officers to be introduced at every public body and for a legal duty to proactively publish information, so requests are dealt with as promptly and thoroughly as they should be.

My bill would also extend coverage to organisations like COSLA and make all listed exemptions subject to a public interest test.

I believe these are common sense proposals, yet the Scottish Government seems reticent to pursue them.

In their own consultation on “reform” – which closes the same date as my own consultation, 14th March – they argue for a “proportionate approach when considering the impact of outsourcing”.

I do not believe this is good enough – I think most readers would agree. I would encourage anyone with an interest in how our public services operate to participate.

It is time to bring FOI into the modern age and embed the culture of openness, transparency, accountability, and empowerment that the public deserve and demand.