Monday, June 29, 2009

UK Government will not sign World's First Treaty on Access to Information

Press release from Access Info Europe and the Campaign for Freedom of Information
29 June 2009
Freedom of Information campaign groups today criticised the UK Government’s decision not to sign the world’s first binding treaty on access to official information. Despite the Prime Minister’s recent statement promising greater freedom of information , the Government has confirmed it will not currently sign the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information and Access Info Europe said there would be real benefits if the UK signed the Convention. First, it would encourage European countries with no or weak access to information laws to introduce effective legislation. Second, it would make it more difficult for any government in the UK to weaken the UK FOI Act.

“We’re concerned that one possible reason behind the Government’s decision is that it intends to introduce new exemptions to our FOI Act, which may not be compatible with the Convention. The Prime Minister recently announced that the Government would introduce two new exemptions to the Act for cabinet documents and communications with members of the Royal Family. In both cases the information would be excluded from the scope of the FOI Act altogether for 20 years, an extremely retrograde step” said Katherine Gundersen of the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

On 24 June the UK Government stated that it “does not intend to sign the Convention at this stage” adding that it “does not rule out signing in the future”. An official statement from the Ministry of Justice observed that “The UK's Freedom of Information legislation has been a success story, providing a regime for freedom of information that is among the most open and rigorous in the world. It already goes further than the standards of the Convention in a number of areas.”

“This is clearly a spurious argument, because nothing stops any country having a higher standard than the Convention. The reluctance to sign the treaty sets a bad example for the new democracies of central and eastern Europe”, said Helen Darbishire of Access Info Europe.
Read the full press release here.
Convention on Access to Official Documents
Explanatory Report to the Convention

FOI Disclosure Stories 22 - 28 June 2009

Top secret plans revealed - The Times 26/06/09
“Britain considered dropping millions of poisoned darts on German troops in the final stages of the Second World War, secret files made public have revealed. Created by British and Canadian scientists, the darts could have been packed into bombs and released from the air with the potential to kill or incapacitate anyone within 10,000 sq yds. Documents released by the National Archives under the Freedom of Information Act include letters and notes collected over four years that demonstrate how close the Government came to deploying the deadly darts.”

CBT: Roads programme as much as £3.9bn over budget
- 25/06/09
“The Highways Agency’s road building programme is ‘significantly over budget’, with three quarters of the roads completed in the past year more expensive than expected. According to Government figures obtained under Freedom of Information by the Campaign for Better Transport, the agency’s programme – including all roads finished in the past 12 months, those under construction, and those in the planning stages – could be as much as £3.9 billion over budget.”

Top BBC bosses' expenses revealed - BBC 25/06/09
“BBC director general Mark Thompson claimed more than £2,000 when he cut short his holiday to deal with the row over the Ross/Brand lewd calls in 2008. The figure was one of a number of details to emerge after the expenses of some top BBC executives were published. The corporation revealed the figures in response to Freedom of Information requests and pressure for more clarity. The expenses and salaries of the BBC's 50 top-earning managers were also revealed on the website on Thursday.”

Taser mania! Police zap sheep, bulls, dogs ... even themselves
- The Daily Mail 23/05/09
“Blundering police have turned their Tasers on stray dogs, runaway sheep and even accidentally on themselves, it was revealed yesterday. Figures released under freedom of information laws highlight a catalogue of errors by officers armed with the 50,000-volt stun guns. In the most serious case, a firearms officer shot a frail 89-yearold man after he threatened to kill himself.”


Oil depots fail blaze safety checks - The Scotsman 28/06/09
“Serious failings in safety measures meant to reduce the risk of major explosions at Scotland's fuel oil depots have been uncovered by government inspectors. Inspectors from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) discovered that none of the nation's nine oil depots ‘fully complied with safety recommendations made after the catastrophic explosion and fire at the Buncefield fuel depot in Hertfordshire in 2005. The inspection reports, obtained under Freedom of Information rules by Scotland on Sunday, reveal that inadequate safety measures at several depots mean there is a ‘high’ risk of a major environmental accident if a leak occurs.”

Cameron plans to open up information and set public data free

Conservative leader David Cameron announced the following plans to open up information in a speech at Imperial College on 25 June 2009:


We have already announced some of the ways in which we will put information - and thereby power - in people's hands.

We will publish every item of government spending over £25,000.

It will all be there for an army of armchair auditors to go through, line by line, pound by pound, to hold wasteful government to account.

We will require the publication of crime data online in an open way so that communities can build their own crime maps, see what crimes are being committed, where and at what time and hold their local police to account if they're not doing something about it. And we will require all local councils to publish information like meeting minutes and local service data in a standardised format.

This will give people the power to hold local government to account, and to develop new public services like a local version of TheyWorkForYou, or Bebo applications that tell teenagers when the local sports centre is open as well as the power to see which councils are providing the best value for money, so residents can demand the same from their own. But today we're announcing further steps towards true freedom of information.


In Britain today, there are over 100,000 public bodies producing a huge amount of information.

This ranges from school league tables to train timetables; from health outcomes to public sector job vacancies. Most of this information is kept locked up by the state. And what is published is mostly released in formats that mean the information can't be searched or used with other applications, like online maps. his stands in the way of accountability.

Let me give you just two examples.

Today, many central government and quango job adverts are placed in a select few newspapers.

Some national, some regional. Some daily, some weekly.

But all of them in a variety of different publications - meaning it's almost impossible to find out how many vacancies there are across the public sector, what kind of salaries are being offered, how these vary from public sector body to public sector body and whether functions are being duplicated.

Remember this is your money being put forward to give someone a job - and you have little way of finding out why, what for and for how much.

Now imagine if they were all published online and in a standardised way. Not only could you find out about vacancies for yourself, you could cross-reference what jobs are on offer and make sure your money is being put to proper use. Or what about patient outcomes in the NHS?

Some of the most important information you'll ever need to know, how long your Dad will survive if he gets cancer, your chances of a good life if you have a stroke, all this is out of your hands.

Now, again, imagine if this information was in your hands. You'd be able to compare your local hospital with others, and do something about it if it wasn't good enough.

Choose another hospital. Voice your complaint to a patient group. Make change happen.
All this data which would help people in this country hold the powerful to account - it's all locked away in some vault. And it's only getting worse.

Next week Ed Balls will publish proposals for a new report card, replacing league tables. That will reduce the amount of information being published, and reduce parent power to hold their school to account.

We're going to set this data free. In the first year of the next Conservative Government, we will find the most useful information in twenty different areas ranging from information about the NHS to information about schools and road traffic and publish it so people can use it.

This information will be published proactively and regularly - and in a standardised format so that it can be 'mashed up' and interacted with.

What's more, because there is no complete list that can tell us exactly what data the government collects, we will create a new 'right to data' so that further datasets can be requested by the public.

By harnessing the wisdom of the crowd, we can find out what information individuals think will be important in holding the state to account.

And to avoid bureaucrats blocking these requests, we will introduce a rule that any request will be successful unless it can be proved that it would lead to overwhelming costs or demonstrable personal privacy or national security concerns.

If we are serious about helping people exert more power over the state, we need to give them the information to do it. And as part of that process, we will review the role of the Information Commissioner to make sure that it is designed to maximise political accountability in our country.
Read the full speech here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Freedom of Information Annual Report 2008

The Ministry of Justice has published the Annual Report on the operation of the FOI Act in Central Government 2008:
More than four years have passed since the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, marking a step change in openness and transparency in public bodies. The Act has opened up the internal workings of government and public authorities, making them more accountable than ever before and fundamentally changing the relationship between the citizen and the state.
the Government need to continue to build on the culture change already achieved to ensure that freedom of information keeps pace. I am confident that the Freedom of Information Act has already brought about a permanent change in culture and will continue to have a positive and profound effect on the United Kingdom for many years to come.
Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice.
Some of the most interesting things are:
  • Monitored bodies received 34,950 "non-routine" FOI & EIR requests - 6% more than 2007
  • Departments of State received 19,175 requests- 13% more than 2007.
  • 82% of requests received a substantive response within the standard 20 working day deadline. However, for Departments of State this figure was 76%.
  • Departments of State "were more than twice as likely to use the permitted extension of the 20-day deadline to allow for consideration of the balance of the public interest."
  • 57% of public interest extensions were completed in 20 working days or less, while 21% took longer than 40 working days.
  • Of the "resolvable" requests, 60% were granted in full, 13% were withheld in part, 21% were withheld in full and 5% had not received a substantive response at the time of monitoring.
  • Monitored bodies received 959 internal reviews on the grounds that some or all of the requested information was withheld. This is slightly higher than the 857 received in 2007.
  • The initial handling of the request under review was upheld fully in 76% of cases. Only 8% upheld the requester's complaint in full.
  • 38% of internal reviews took 20 working days or less, while 30% took between 21 and 40 working days. 16% took longer than 60 working days.
  • There were 153 appeal to the ICO relating to the refusal if information requests by monitored bodies, a fall compared to the 222 in 2007.
  • "Reflecting growing FOI expertise across central government, the Clearing House...changed its referral procedures to focus only on the most complex and challenging cases, resulting in a significant drop in the number of referrals".
Download the report here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Information Tribunal User Group minutes

The minutes from the meeting of the Information Tribunal user group on 17 March 2009 are now available here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Speaker election: Richard Shepherd MP on FOI

Richard Shepherd MP made a powerful speech in favour of Freedom of Information when he addressed MPs yesterday as one of the candidates for Speaker of the House of Commons:
All my parliamentary career has been directed towards the ambitions that we all shared when we came into this Chamber. I refer to a profound belief in our central democratic institution. We see now it at a nadir. We see that we are under pressure, and the reasons are evident to everyone out there. The secrecy in which many parts of our national life operated has been rolled back just a little, revealing that which has disconnected us from those who sent us here in the first place.

I have always believed in opening things up. I stood up for reform of section 2 of the old Official Secrets Act. I stood up for the whistleblowers Bill, originally introduced by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). I have wanted this House to represent the very best of our nation. But what I have found, and what I think we have all found, is that we are so disconnected from the public that on the first great issue of trust—public finance, public money and knowledge of it—we failed. That means that, collectively, we are held in disregard.

I believe in freedom of information. There is no way of shrugging that off. I believe that it was a great, great statute that the Labour Government introduced. I believe that although it seems our nemesis at the moment, it is in fact the path to redemption. A public out there expect openness, and where public money is used, whether in local authorities or by this institution, they have a right to know. That I profoundly believe.
It's well worth listening to the speech in full here. It's 43 mins in to the recording.
Or read it in Hansard.

Monday, June 22, 2009

FOI Disclosure Stories 15 - 21 June 2009

Revealed: catalogue of atomic leaks - Guardian 21/06/09
“The scale of safety problems inside Britain's nuclear power stations has been revealed for the first time in a secret report obtained by the Observer that shows more than 1,750 leaks, breakdowns or other ‘events’ over the past seven years. The damning document, written by the government's chief nuclear inspector, Mike Weightman, and released under the Freedom of Information Act, raises serious questions about the dangers of expanding the industry with a new generation of atomic plants.”

NHS Gateway Reviews damn £13bn IT decisions – Computerworld UK 19/06/09
“The government has published 31 Gateway reviews into the highly troubled £12.7 billion National Programme for IT... The documents revealed that stakeholders and health officials have long had doubts about the NPfIT suppliers – of which only BT and CSC are left – and have questioned whether the programme can ever deliver value for money. Nearly a third of the 31 reviews are so severe that they gave a ‘red light’ to elements of the programme, which means there was a need for immediate remedial action and serious reconsideration of the NPfIT progresses.”

Revealed: BBC's panic after Dando's murder
- The Independent 18/06/09
“Her death shocked a nation and led to a police hunt for her killer which continues today. Ten years after Jill Dando was killed with a single bullet to the head, confidential minutes disclosed to The Independent [under the Freedom of Information Act] reveal for the first time how the BBC responded to the cold-blooded murder of its most popular television presenter.”

Social work vacancies as high as 39%
- Guardian 17/06/09
“Social work departments are desperately short of qualified staff – including one authority with a 39% vacancy rate – the UK's largest public sector union warned today. The scale of the problem and the consequent difficulty helping vulnerable adults and children have been revealed by a series of Freedom of Information requests submitted by Unison. The figures show that the national average for social work vacancy rates are running at around 12%.”

Mass dolphin stranding linked to navy exercises - New Scientist 17/06/09
“An investigation into the UK's largest ever mass stranding of common dolphins has identified military activity as the most probable cause – although no single activity can be definitively linked to the stranding… documents obtained under the UK Freedom of Information act have provided researchers with unprecedented access to military records of navy activity in the area… The UK navy had been conducting exercises in the area several days before the stranding, and on the morning of the stranding itself.”

MPs’ £1.90 meals
- The Sun 17/06/09
“MPs are enjoying meals for less than £2 - subsidised by the taxpayer, it was revealed yesterday. They can buy cut-price food and drink at 28 restaurants and bars in the Houses of Parliament. Recent menus, obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, show grub sold at a fraction of the cost charged elsewhere in London.”


Rates hike on cards as pension pot dips - Belfast Telegraph 16/06/09
“Business and domestic ratepayers face a hike in district rates as a result of a dramatic fall in the value of Northern Ireland's local government pension scheme because of the global financial crisis. Northern Ireland's local government pension fund lost £600m in value between January 2007 and the beginning of this year, a Freedom of Information request to the fund — run by the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers' Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC) — reveals. It dropped in value from £3.088bn to £2.469bn.”


Pubs face closure over rule change for licensing - The Herald 16/06/09
“The future of thousands of pubs, clubs, hotels and off-sales premises is in doubt after new figures show that fewer than half of licensed premises have had managers checked and approved under new legislation. With only 11 weeks before Scotland's new liquor laws come into effect, figures obtained through Freedom of Information show just over 7500 applications for "personal licences" have been granted, from approximately 17,000 premises.”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Commons publication conceals abuses

Campaign for Freedom of Information
Press release: 18 June 2009

The information on MPs' allowances published by the House of Commons today would have made it impossible to detect the most serious abuses revealed by the Daily Telegraph over recent weeks, according to the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

The Campaign said that the blacking out of MPs’ addresses meant that the ‘flipping’ of homes for which allowances were claimed could not be detected. The public could see how much was claimed and for what, but not which property was involved or whether it had changed.

The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said: “Last year an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act removed information relating to MPs’ residential addresses from the Act’s scope. This was explained as a measure to protect MPs’ privacy and safety. But it also prevented the ‘flipping’ of second homes being detected. The House of Commons could have overcome this problem, without jeopardising MPs’ safety, by providing a partial postcode or by indicating when an address had changed, but this was not done.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

MoJ PQ on FOI consultations

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what progress he has made in his review of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [279682]

Mr. Wills: In the Prime Minister's statement on Constitutional Renewal on 10 June, he emphasised our plans to look at broadening the application of the Freedom of information Act and reducing the time taken to release official documents.

We are considering carefully the responses to the public consultation on extending the Act through a section 5 order. This could include within the scope of the Act bodies performing functions of a public nature and contractors providing services that are functions of public authorities. We will publish our response to the section 5 consultation shortly.

In his statement, the Prime Minister also announced the reduction in the 30-year rule to 20 years. Our detailed response to the 30-year rule review will be published by the summer.

Publication of MPs' expenses

The Members Estimate Committee has decided that printed documents and receipts relating to MPs’ Additional Costs Allowance (ACA), Incidental Expenses Provision (IEP) and Communications Allowance claims dating back to 2004/05 and up to 2007/08, together with details of stationery and postage costs covering the same period, will be published on the morning of 18 June on the Parliament website.

Monday, June 15, 2009

FOI Disclosure Stories 25 May - 7 June 2009

Revealed: the unreported nuclear accident - Channel 4 11/06/09
“A disaster narrowly avoided, a danger only spotted by chance - yet the company involved faces no prosecution. Channel 4 News tells the untold story of Sizewell A, one Britain's older nuclear power plants. These are details that, but for a Freedom of Information request, would have remained secret. Two years ago, a burst pipe inside the Sizewell A station led to a huge leak from the pond used to cool thousands of nuclear fuel rods.”

Stagecoach paid double for South West franchise
- The Times 11/06/09
“Stagecoach paid almost £600million more than the next nearest bidder to retain Britain's biggest rail franchise, according to documents released by the Department for Transport (DfT) under the Freedom of Information Act. The transport group agreed to pay £1.191billion for the 10-year South West Trains contract - twice as much as any of the three other bidders was willing to pay.”

Drug Rape Accusations: Only 3% Reach Court
- Sky News 10/6/09
“Women who report being drugged and raped to the police have very little chance of seeing their attacker going to court, figures show. Data obtained under the freedom of information act reveals a mere 1% of alleged drug rape cases end up with a conviction and that only 3% are even prosecuted. The national rate for overall rape convictions is 7%.”

Critics find NHS's £12m spend on homeopathy hard to swallow
- Guardian Unlimited 10/06/09
“Homeopathy, which many doctors argue has an effect only in the mind of the believer, cost the cash-strapped NHS £12m over three years, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act. Homeopathic treatments have been described as ‘biologically implausible’ by the UK's only professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst of Exeter University. They are highly diluted solutions that may contain no discernible trace of the original ingredients.”

Postcode lottery in rape convictions 'getting worse'
- The Guardian 10/06/09
“The postcode lottery faced by rape victims seeking justice has worsened despite huge government efforts, with women in some areas 11 times more likely to see assailants found guilty than in others, official figures show today. Data obtained by the equality campaigning group, the Fawcett Society, reveals that in the worst area, Dorset, fewer than one in 60 women who went to police in 2007 saw an attacker convicted of rape.”

DNA policy 'stigmatises children' - BBC 08/06/09
“DNA samples are being taken from children in a London borough at the rate of nearly one a day, figures show. A freedom of information (FOI) request by the Liberal Democrats showed DNA has been taken from an average of 360 young people in Camden every year since 2000. The samples, from children as young as 10, have been kept regardless of whether charges were ever brought.”

34,000 'pension millionaires' in the public sector
- 07/06/09
“Almost 34,000 public sector workers have retired with pension pots of at least £1m, new figures show. The largest number of ‘pension millionaires’ is found in the National Health Service, which has 22,999, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act. Other public sector pension millionaires include 3,680 former civil servants and 2,658 teachers.”

BBC bosses almost lost faith in 'disgusting' Monty Python
– The Independent 01/06/09
“Audience ratings for the first show [of Monty Python's Flying Circus], broadcast 40 years ago, were the lowest for any light entertainment show and the BBC management soon lost patience with the Python's 'disgusting and nihilistic' humour, according to documents from the time relayed to The Independent.”

Food and chauffeurs - quangocrats are at it too - The Times 31/05/09
“Council chiefs and quangocrats are claiming up to £35,000 a year each in expenses for hotels, lavish meals, sat navs and, in one case, £18.50 for dishwasher tablets. One quango boss made 12 trips abroad during two years in which she claimed £70,000 in expenses. Another claimed nearly £800 for a 42in flatscreen television which he said he would watch only in ‘times of emergency’. Another spent £16,500 on chauffeur-driven cars.”

UK won’t hit its target for renewables - The Sunday Times 31/05/09
“Britain is failing to green its economy, according to previously unpublished reports from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The internal forecasts show that by 2020 the UK will be sourcing only 5% of its energy from renewables, far short of the 15% target we signed up to with the European Commission."

Watchdogs paid staff £25m in bonuses
- Guardian Unlimited 31/05/09
“Government watchdogs [the Financial Services Authority] were under fire last night after it emerged they paid out £25m in staff bonuses last year, despite serious problems in some of the areas they regulate and at a time when the country was sliding towards recession. Watchdog executives on salaries of more than £100,000 received £5m of the bonus payments, figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats under the Freedom of Information Act show.”

Universities overclaiming millions - 30/05/09
“Universities are overclaiming millions of pounds of public funding for students who they fail to recruit or who drop out, it can be revealed. Almost £100 million has been overpaid over the last eight year, with some institutions, such as Lincoln, Huddersfield, Anglia Ruskin, in Cambridgeshire, Thames Valley, Leeds Metropolitan, Birmingham City, and Hertfordshire Universities claiming in excess of £1 million more than they are entitled to because of miscalculations in student numbers."

Colleges defy pressure over private pupils
- 29/05/09
“Several Cambridge colleges are consistently accepting disproportionately high numbers of private school students compared with their peers despite government pressure to increase the number of state school students at top universities, a freedom-of-information request by the Financial Times shows. One of the most striking examples is St John’s, one of Cambridge’s biggest colleges, which took 55 per cent of its UK undergraduates from private schools last year…”

Blackmail fear over lost RAF data – BBC 25/05/09
“The government has kept secret the loss of highly sensitive RAF vetting records, which one wing commander says leaves individuals open to blackmail... An internal MoD memo - obtained by a former officer and passed to BBC Two's Who's Watching You? programme - shows the lost files contained ‘details of criminal convictions, investigations, precise details of debt, medical conditions, drug abuse, use of prostitutes, extra-marital affairs including the names of third parties’.”

Less than one in three pupils taking history GCSE
- Guardian Unlimited 26/05/09
“Fewer than a third of teenagers took a GCSE in history last year, according to official figures revealed by the Conservatives today. Last summer a total of 202,482 pupils entered for the exam, leaving 451,410 children who did not. The figures, released after a Freedom of Information Act request, show a drop in the proportion of teenagers taking history over the last 10 years, which the Tories blame on the government's policy of publishing league tables.


Mystery of 10,000 missing overseas students
- Yorkshire Post 13/06/09
“More than 10,000 places at Yorkshire universities have been offered to overseas applicants who then failed to enrol – raising new fears that the student visa system has been abused to enter the country. Figures obtained by the Yorkshire Post under the Freedom of Information Act show that in the past three academic years 10,407 candidates – almost entirely from outside the European Union – were given university places in the region but never arrived.”

Welsh Assembly Goverment spends £5m on hire cars
- Daily Post 12/06/09
“The Welsh Assembly Government spent £5m in five years on hire cars for use by civil servants… The Assembly Government had a vehicle hire contract with Europcar UK Ltd for the past five years, available for use by staff, it was revealed.”

Bristol hospitals spent £66m on agency staff - This is Bristol 03/06/09
“Health trusts in the Bristol area spent more than £66 million filling staffing gaps in a 20-month period. Figures obtained by the Post using the Freedom of Information Act show that more than 2-million overtime and agency hours were paid for to ensure that there was sufficient cover at the hospitals and ambulance service.”

Just one in five Tube sex offenders is caught
– London Evening Standard 01/06/09
“Transport police are only tracking down one in five sex offenders who strike on the London Underground, figures show today. There were 338 sex crimes on the network in 2008/09, according to British Transport Police figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Only 71 cases were solved, a detection rate of 21 per cent.”

School probe over extra £2.1m in building work
- Nottingham Evening Post 01/06/09
“A school’s building work went £2.1m over budget because no official project manager was in place, it has been revealed. Findings of an investigation at Nottingham Bluecoat School and Technology College have now been released to The Post under the Freedom of Information Act. The school's Aspley campus was developed throughout 2005 and 2006 but delays and design changes sent costs rocketing – leading to the probe in 2007.”

West Midlands ambulance chief: 999 patients being put at risk - 31/05/09
“Letters from senior officials at Britain's second largest ambulance service reveal mounting concerns over the ‘constant and prolonged’ delays for patients arriving at Accident and Emergency units In the correspondence, disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, senior figures from West Midlands Ambulance service trust detail concerns about the hold-ups to hospital managers.”


Stow College officials accused in £3m funds row – The Herald 02/06/09
“A Scottish college has been accused of failings in management and governance after it claimed millions of pounds in public money for courses that it paid a private company to deliver at a fraction of the cost. Stow College, in Glasgow, received some £3m of taxpayers' money between 2003 and 2008 for construction courses that were run by a training company at a cost to the college of just £867,000.”

Opposition councillors blast £23.8million cost of employing temporary workers
– Press and Journal 02/06/09
“Aberdeen City Council was under fire last night after it emerged it spent more than the Scottish Government on hiring temporary workers over the last three years. The local authority paid agencies £23.8million for temporary staff between 2006 and this year – £7.2million more than the government spent.”

More than 500 Scottish jobs in teaching ‘at risk’
– The Herald 01/06/09
“More than 500 teaching jobs could be lost this year as a £61m squeeze on education budgets begins to bite. Figures on efficiency savings released by 22 local education authorities have provoked a bitter row over whether the concordat between councils and the Scottish Government is leading to cuts in frontline staff. The figures obtained under freedom of information legislation show education budgets in Glasgow have been squeezed by £8.7m as part of the government drive to produce efficiency savings of 2% across the public sector.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

FOI Live 2009 presentations and recordings

The presentations and recordings from yesterday's FOI Live conference are now on The Constitution Unit's website.

Scottish Information Commissioner Decisions courses

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland is running two half-day training courses in Glasgow on 14 September 2009 and Aberdeen on 15 September 2009.

The courses, which are aimed at those with a good working knowledge of the legislation, will highlight key developments in the way the main exemptions, the public interest test and the legislation's procedural requirements are being interpreted. The courses will be presented by the Campaign's director, Maurice Frankel.

The courses will focus on the decisions issued by the Scottish Information Commissioner and Court of Session, but will also cover decisions issued by the UK Commissioner and Tribunal that have implications for Scottish public authorities.

Download the course leaflet here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Campaign expresses concern over new FOI exemptions

Campaign for Freedom of Information
Press release: 10 June 2009

The Campaign for Freedom of Information welcomed the Prime Minister's announcement today that the Freedom of Information Act would be extended to additional bodies and that the 30 year period before old official papers are made public would be reduced to 20 years. This was a substantial step, the Campaign said, even if it did not go as far as the 15 year period recommended by the Dacre Review earlier this year.

However it expressed serious concern at Mr Brown's announcement that new exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act would be introduced for Cabinet Papers and for information relating to the Royal Family. The Campaign said it appeared that the government intended to exclude cabinet papers from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act altogether. This follows its decision in February to veto the Information Tribunal’s ruling that the cabinet minutes on the war in Iraq should be disclosed.

The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said: “Everyone accepts that cabinet minutes should not normally disclosed, other than in truly exceptional circumstances. But if someone asks for a paper submitted to a cabinet committee 5 or 10 years ago that request should be considered on its merits. To exclude the whole class of cabinet papers from the Act is an unnecessary, retrograde step, which will protect much material that does not need to be confidential and allow the top of level of government to operate in absolute secrecy."

The Campaign also pointed out that the Act already contains an exemption for information relating to communications with the Royal Family which is subject to the Act’s public interest test. It said additional protection was not needed. “If, for example, there is correspondence between, say, Prince Charles and ministers about proposed legislation that should remain, as at present, potentially disclosable on public interest grounds” Mr Frankel said.

Information Commissioner calls for instinctive culture of openness

In one of his last speeches as Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas will urge Whitehall and the public sector to learn the lessons from the MPs’ expenses scandal by routinely publishing more official information without waiting to be asked.

A press release about the Commissioner's speech at the FOI Live conference can be accessed here.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

SIC newsletter May/June 2009

The latest edition of Inform, the Scottish Information Commissioner's newsletter, has been published:
This month I provide an overview of the broadening of the work of my office, and summarise the priorities set out in my recently published Operation Plan for 2009/10. I also highlight key decisions which demonstrate the use of FOI by the voluntary sector, and give a brief update on the University of Strathclyde's study to examine FOI use within the sector.

Inform Newsletter May/June 2009
Operational Plan 2009/10

Monday, June 08, 2009

FOI Podcast No. 18

Episode 18 of Ibrahim Hasan's FOI Podcast has been published. This episode discusses:

• Information held with a view to publication
• Disclosure of CCTV footage of the 7th July Bombers
• The definition of court records
• Whether names of FOI requestors should be disclosed
• The latest thinking on the section 42 exemption for legal privilege
• AND disclosure of commercially sensitive information

There is also comment about the MPs' expenses saga.

Listen here -

Thursday, June 04, 2009

ICO rules on FOI complaint into the alleged abuse of the honours system

ICO press release
4 June 2009
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to release some of the information from a senior investigating officer’s report relating to an investigation into alleged abuse of the honours system in 1997. The ICO has ordered that the information should be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.

The ICO accepted that disclosing the report in full, including the names of witnesses, may restrict the flow of information to the force which could prejudice future investigations. However, as the investigation into the alleged abuse of the honours system was closed in 1999, the ICO considered that disclosure of paragraphs 15-21 of the police report would not cause disruption. In addition, the MPS provided no evidence that the investigation would be re-opened.

Read the full decision notice -
FS50153447 Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service

FOI resources for the NHS

The ICO website has a new page specifically for the health sector to help health practitioners find out what they need to know about their freedom of information and data protection responsibilities.

The NHS Confederation has also published this briefing to help NHS organisations fulfil the spirit of the legislation in the most timely and efficient way.

Monday, June 01, 2009

New guidance published by the ICO

The following new guidance has been produced by the Information Commissioner's Office:

Information held on behalf of another - Version 1, 1 June 2009

Information supplied by or relating to security bodies - Version 1, 1 June 2009

Section 24: the national security exemption - Version 1, 1 June 2009

Prime Minister wants greater freedom of information

On the Today Programme this morning, the Prime Minister said major constitutional reform was now necessary, including an extension of the Freedom of Information Act:

Prime Minister: Where there is a need to clean up the system it will be done. Where there is need for people to be disciplined that will happen. Where repayment of money has got to made it should happen. I was brought up to believe that integrity, telling the truth, taking responsibility are at the heart of the political system. Where mistakes have been made they have got to be rectified.

But equally, I'm now convinced, that what I've wanted to do for some time - I actually set it out in 2007 - is that major constitutional reform is now necessary. We need to make power more accountable to the people who elect Members of Parliament and councillors. We need to open up areas of our public life to greater freedom of information, so an extension of freedom of information. And I think we also need to give citizens more rights so that they can hold people to account and actually feel that they feel their interests are better served by the political system. So I'm going to set up a national council for democratic renewal. I'm going to invite large numbers of people from outside the political system to come in and help us do this. And I hope we can move forward with major change as quickly as possible...

I've been calling for constitutional reform for two years. Even before the Telegraph revelations I asked Sir Christopher Kelly, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, to investigate all this. I took it upon myself to do so. I then put proposals to Parliament long before the Telegraph came out with the revelations. And many of them were accepted and changed the system. Since the Telegraph's revelations we've made further changes to move from a self-regulatory system to a statutory system. Now that means there has to be a code of conduct, legislated for to irradicate these things happening again.

The question now is can we clean up other parts of the system? Can we open up to transparency a whole series of other public bodies including health authorities, local authorities, maybe even including the BBC so that people have to publish transparently things that are going on and at the same time, can we assure the electorate that we are taking the action that is necessary, so that every point the issue is whether we can advance the individual rights and the individual entitlements that are there for the citizens, the constituents that we are there to serve...

I advocated freedom of information 20 years ago. And I've been advocating for a written constitution for some time. We are determined to go further on constitutional reform now on the democratic renewal of our country, on freedom of information...

Evan Davis: In January this year Harriet Harman proposed excluding expenses from the Freedom of Information Act. That was January this year, a Cabinet member, Leader of the Commons. The Times reported that you for a time were supporting a three line whip on the proposal to bar full publication. Is that true?

Prime Minister: This is not correct. There was an issue about how the Freedom of Information Act would be used to publish expenses. And people wanted this information public. Look I want far more information public. You go back 20 years and the support I've given for freedom of information. When I became Prime Minister I removed the charge that was actually going to be imposed on people that were calling for freedom of information. And I think it's rather wrong to say that we were against freedom of information when we actually introduced it.

Evan Davis: Do you think you have delivered the promised end of spin? The culture of spin?

Prime Minister: Of course, I've tried to be as open as I can, as transparent as I can. I've tried at all times both to tell the truth about what's going on and tried also at the same time to expand the freedom of information available to people. But I want to do better in the future and I want government to do better and I want the BBC to join a debate about the future and the future is how our constitution can better serve the public. How the listeners today can see that their rights are enhanced in the way that they feel powerless in some cases at the moment. How we can deal with the anger that people have about our politics that is not as sufficiently accountable to the public as it should be. And how we can open up those areas of our public life that have been too secret and where in the dark recesses of power to much information is held where the public actually should have that information. Now that's my agenda, that's what I've always wanted to do. That's what we're going to get about doing as we also at the same time the action to solve the economic problem."

On the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, the Prime Minister also credited the role of the FOI Act in exposing the problems:

"This is the response to a Freedom of Information Act that was created by a Labour government. We wanted there to be free information. The House of Commons is now subject to this freedom of information. Others will have to follow. In a free society, open information and open society is the key to a proper democracy being accountable. I've always supported that."