Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Al Roberts' FOI research notes -impact of DCA's Clearing House practices on the response times of departments

Al Roberts from Syracuse University has done some interesting analysis on the impact of the Department of Constutional Affairs'Clearing House on the main Central Government Departments' response times to the FOIA. As Al acknowledges more data is required before we can say there is a clear link but the outline data on the graph would seem to point to some trends worth investigating.

Read Al's FOI research notes

It is also worth reading Al's research from the Canadian experience of central co-ordination of FOI requests. see: Spin control and freedom of information: Lessons for the United Kingdom from Canada. Public Administration, 83.1 (Spring 2005)

The Minister from the DCA, Baroness Ashdown was pressed on the issue of transparency of the Clearing House in her evidence to the Select Committee Inquiry into FOI. Her answers were not very clear.(see Qs185-Q188 for full discussion).

Q181 Dr Whitehead: You have mentioned a couple of times this afternoon the clearing house, the operation of it and your view that that is working well. However, we have heard evidence from some other jurisdictions that their clearing houses for their FOI Acts have in fact led to delays. Do you think that is true in the case of the UK clearing house, ie they have contributed to the delays that there already were?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I do not think it is contributing to the delays, but inevitably if the clearing house has been consulted, then they will need to look at the particular issue. I think I gave an example that you can have a piece of information which is being sought right across government where the clearing house might play a role in supporting all the departments to try and pull it all together in a good consistent approach to it. It is not so much that it delays it but inevitably that takes time to get right. Again, I suspect this will get better and faster as we get more used to doing it. It is not contributing to delays in the negative sense, but certainly they have a role to play in making sure the advice they give to departments is accurate and that takes time.

It will be interesting to see how the ICO deal with any clearing house appeals, especially given the Comments by Richard Thomas to the same Select Committee:

I think there is an interesting issue you have put your finger on there, which is I have to say I am a little uncomfortable that the same part of the same government department is responsible for policy on FOI, for leadership of the clearing house and for sponsorship of my department, and I think that there are some slightly uncomfortable questions there about competing considerations.

(Also interesting to note that Al is using a Wiki format for his site, you can add comments and discussion etc to the pages. I've also been working on a FOI based wiki idea over the last month or so and hope to have my beta verion up soon, hopefully later today)

No comments: