International Right to Know Day 2016 – Four ways the ICO is helping promote openness by public bodies

By Steve Wood, Interim Deputy Commissioner.

International Right to Know Day is an annual occasion designed to promote freedom of information worldwide.

In 2016, 250 years since the launch of the world’s first Freedom of Information law in Sweden, the right to request information from public bodies is as important as ever to democracy.

Today we mark International Right to Know Day 2016 with a look at just some of the ways the ICO is helping promote openness by public bodies:

Acting on complaints

Each year we examine thousands of complaints from people having trouble accessing information from a public body.

The outcomes of our decisions can receive national attention, as with the West Ham Olympic Stadium deal.

Our decision that the Department of Work and Pensions should release information about organisations that signed up to a scheme to offer unpaid work to unemployed people was recently upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Work to improve transparency in public sector outsourcing

Outsourcing is something new Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham highlighted in a recent BBC interview. It’s something she’ll be looking at again in the coming months.

The Commissioner says:

“Private contractors above a certain threshold for a contract or doing some specific types of work could be included under the FOI Act. The government could do more to include private bodies that are basically doing work on behalf of the public.”

In the meantime, more information should be available in future about the performance of government contracts worth over £10 million, thanks to changes to the Model Services Contract.

The changes have come about as a result of widespread concerns about transparency regarding outsourcing. The ICO has contributed to the Institute for Government’s (IfG) work on public sector contracts. Last year we also called for more proactive publication in our Transparency in Outsourcing Roadmap and our guidance on outsourcing and FOI.

Providing guidance and helping raise awareness of information rights

We have a comprehensive suite of FOI guidance for organisations on our website that’s regularly updated. There’s a range of information, from who is covered by the act to how to deal with vexatious requests. We also have guidance on the Environmental Information Regulations.

Meanwhile, we want people to feel confident using their rights to access information.Ourwebsite offers helpful tips on dos and don’ts when making a Freedom of Information request.

Independent Commission for Freedom of Information

Our objective expertise helps shape the debate about how FOI should work in practice. For example, we had input into the review by the Independent Commission for FOI. There wascertainly much to welcome in the commission’s report, including its conclusion “that the Act is generally working well, and that it has been one of a number of measures that have helped to change the culture of the public sector”.

Steve WoodSteve Wood is Interim Deputy Commissioner and responsible for the ICO’s policy position on the proper application of information rights law and good practice, through lines to take, guidance, internal training, advice and specific projects.
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