Information Commissioner writes open letter to remind public organisations “transparency is essential”

Information Commissioner writes open letter to remind public organisations “transparency is essential”

Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council

What Do They Know

The Information Commissioner, John Edwards, has written an open letter to public organisations to remind them that “transparency is essential” and resources must be dedicated to access to information.

This comes as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has taken regulatory action against five public authorities for “continued failings” to meet their obligations under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.

The open letter to senior leaders, published today (4 March), states: “I know that many organisations are already leading by example but, as demonstrated by the enforcement action my office has taken over the last 18 months, many need to do more.

“I am calling on you to encourage your staff, whatever their role, to take FOI seriously. You need to dedicate resources to improving access to information and transparency, and ensure you have the right training, processes and culture in place.”

Sussex Police and South Yorkshire Police have been issued with enforcement notices for their FOI failings. Both forces had “large backlogs” in dealing with FOI requests, with 753 for Sussex Police and 390 for South Yorkshire, the watchdog revealed.

Sussex Police had a compliance rate of only 32% for the most recent quarter. South Yorkshire Police’s compliance rate was under 18% for most of last year, which the enforcement notice describes as “unacceptable on any level.”

The Department of Education (DfE), Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and the Financial Ombudsman Service have meanwhile been given practice recommendations setting out improvements they can make to better comply with their legal obligations.

The ICO found the DfE’s compliance rate for responding within the statutory timeframes has been declining since 2019 and “hasn’t consistently been over 80% since then”.

The open letter outlined a number of “simple steps” for public organisations to take:

  • Know what you need to publish and make as much information publicly available as possible.
  • Look at what people are asking you about and actively publish it.
  • Implement simple policies that show staff how to manage information requests effectively.
  • Share our simple ‘FOI in 90 seconds’ guide and response templates with your staff.
  • Provide mandatory FOI training for all staff, review it regularly and offer refresher training.
  • Invest in tools and systems to manage and respond to information requests.
  • Monitor performance to ensure your organisation is complying with its legal duties using the ICO’s template action plan and self-assessment toolkits.

The Information Commissioner pointed to a collection of recently published case studies that demonstrate how leadership has driven forward an “open and transparent culture”.

Warren Seddon, ICO Director of Freedom of Information and Transparency said: “Transparency is fundamental to our democracy. Information delayed is information denied, and people have the legal right to promptly receive information they’re entitled to.

“Sussex Police and South Yorkshire Police have let people down with their woeful failure to comply with the law on responding to information requests.

“The Commissioner has been clear that public sector leaders should take transparency seriously. Where organisations fail to do this we will take enforcement action so people’s information rights are upheld.”

Lottie Winson




Publications Welsh Government

Freedom of Information

Freedom of Information Act

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Team @ AberdareOnline

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