Wednesday, July 08, 2009

ICO Annual Report 2008-09

The Information Commissioner's Office has published the Annual Report for 2008/09:
Foreword by Richard Thomas:
Transparency and openness have become part of the standard political vocabulary. The public's right to know has become a success story. Wider debates are underway about democratic renewal, public engagement and constitutional reform. Freedom of information, a somewhat fragile flower for most of its lifetime with few vocal friends in Westminster and Whitehall, is now a permanent fixture and a core part of the fabric of public life. The talk now is of extending the legislation.
The first four years have involved a massive learning curve for everyone. Many transitional problems have been caused as public bodies have resisted disclosure of material which had been written without an expectation that it could reach the public domain.

As we move into a more mature business-as-usual phase, public sector culture must continue to shift in favour of openness being the norm. There is no need to wait for requests. These can be sporadic, burdensome and disruptive. I have frequently advocated the 'crown jewels' approach - public bodies need to show they recognise the imperative of accountability (and make life easier for themselves) by identifying what absolutely has to be kept secret and the proactively publishing other official information as a matter of routine.
It is not easy (and anyway too soon) to measure freedom of information achievements by reference to rationales of trust, confidence, accountability, improved decision-making or reduced impropriety. But it can be said that the impact on the general public appears to have been substantial. Our annual survey shows marked increases in public attitudes towards the benefits of access to information held by public authorities. Those agreeing that freedom of information "increases knowledge of what public authorities do" rose from 54% in 2004 to 84% in 2008. Those agreeing that it "increases confidence in public authorities" went up from 51% to 75%.
The annual report, annual report summary and the slides from the launch are available here.

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