This may be complete coincidence, but on the WhatDoTheyKnow website, there are two Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, on similar themes, which requesters have made to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), to which – at the time of writing – the ICO appears simply to be failing to respond, way beyond the statutory timescale of 20 working days.
Both requests are about procurement of external consultants. In the first, the requester asked
Please disclose all current agreements for provision of legal services by outside bodies such as barristers chambers, law firms etc. This should include the rates of pay agreed.
The request was made on the 19th February and more than three months on, has simply had no response (other than an automated acknowledgment).
In the second the (different) requester asked
how many times the Information Commissioner’s Office has engaged consultants, companies or other specialists to deliver services to the ICO without putting the work out to tender or otherwise advertising the opportunity externally
That request was made on the 26th February and, barring some holding responses, which seem to have dried up, it has had no substantive response.
The failure to respond is concerning, and the failure to communicate inexplicable. One wonders where the reluctance comes from.
My own recent experience of making FOI requests to them indicates a less-than-ideal level of compliance with the laws the ICO is meant to regulate. However, when, some time ago, I asked the ICO for compliance figures, they refused to disclose them, saying they would be published soon. Yet approximately six months on they still haven’t done so (which is not in compliance with the best-practice requirements of the section 45 FOI Code of Practice).
I offered the ICO an invitation to comment on this blogpost, and in response a spokesperson said: “We aim to resolve 95% of information requests within the statutory deadline, unless we have sought an extension. We acknowledge that we have fallen short of expectations in these instances but can confirm that the responses to both requests will be issued soon.” No comment was made on the wider point about compliance, and publication of compliance statistics. (I would also make the observation that it’s rather surprising ICO only aims to respond to 95% of requests within the statutory deadline – surely they would (and should) aim to respond to 100% within the timeframe mandated by the law?)
I’ve previously expressed concern about the ICO’s unwillingness to take enforcement action against recalcitrant, if not contemptuous, public authorities for poor FOI compliance. Elizabeth Denham has recently (and unsuccessfully) called for an extension of FOI law, saying
Part of my job is to make sure that the legislation my office regulates fulfils its objectives and remains relevant. When it does not, I will speak out
Will she also speak out about the fact that her office is not itself complying with the legislation it regulates?
The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog, unless they indicate otherwise) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.