Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Information Commissioner interview with Public Servant magazine

There is an interview with the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham in the April 2010 edition of Public Servant magazine, which is now available online.
"We are off the back foot and organisations have to respond to a more robust ICO," he explains. "Some of them have learnt the hard way. For example, the London Development Agency didn't want to make information available about certain land acquisitions in connection with the Olympics. And they kept changing the grounds on which they were withholding the information, so we got to the position where we said 'we will publish the decision notice with the information we have to hand'.

"It can't go on forever. At some point, you have to call people's bluff. I also let it be known to the Cabinet Office that I wouldn't hesitate to issue an information notice – it's the sort of thing you only have to threaten. If anyone was tempted to game the system, that has now stopped.

"All the permanent secretaries heard me say recently that we are getting tougher. I borrowed the slogan from Sainsbury's – 'you'll taste the difference'. Nobody is under any illusion any longer that information requests can just be spun out forever.
But he acknowledges that large quantities of routine information are still not being published without legal challenge.

"An awful lot of public money is currently being wasted in rather futile fights over appeals and High Court cases," admits Graham. "We have one case involving the location of mobile phone masts that is going from the Supreme Court to the European Court and you just think: 'can this be right – how much money is going to m'learned friends?' The civil service mindset has to become a bit more modern.
"Because of the times in which we live and the impact of the internet, public authorities really need to get engagement with citizens. You get local authorities that are good at this and those old-fashioned councils that are bad at it. Where councils are on the front foot, people feel involved and consulted – whether it is over a 20mph speed limit on residential streets or how the money is spent on local parks.

"It is usually the same authorities that don't do FoI very well that also don't do things like children's services and financial management very well. I am a great believer in hitting people with the boring facts; they are usually much less interesting than the conspiracy theories."
Full article here.

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