Gill Bull introduces the ICO’s proposed strategy for the next three years and invites comments to help inform a final version to be launched later in 2019.
Every year, more and more people ask us to independently review decisions made by public authorities about their requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act or the Environmental Information Regulations. By the end of this financial year, we’re expecting to have received a record 6,500 cases for consideration.
Our vision is to increase the public’s confidence in organisations that process personal data and in those responsible for making public information available. The transparency brought about by freedom of information is an important part of that vision and an essential part of our democracy. Amid concerns about the impacts of fake news, being able to access accurate and timely public information assumes increasing importance.
A look at recent headlines highlights the point: stories about the numbers of young people in care being placed in poor quality accommodation; variation in access to NHS services; the costs to local authorities of public health funerals. But these are more than just so-called stories – it’s more important than that. Because the information people can access holds those in power to account and asks questions of those who run our society and deliver our public services.
We are proposing 5 high-level priorities for the strategy to:
- Work in partnership to improve standards of openness, transparency and participation among public authorities in a digital age.
- Provide excellent customer service to members of the public and public authorities and lead by example in fulfilling our statutory functions.
- Raise awareness of access to information rights and make it even easier for the public to exercise their rights.
- Promote the reform of access to information legislation so it remains fit for purpose.
- Develop and sustain our international collaboration.
The draft strategy recognises that there is still a need for further cultural change in the way some public authorities approach access to information rights. It sets out how we can make even more use of all our powers to respond to individual requests for information as well as shine a light on systemic failings.
And it sets out how the ICO will tackle issues of non-compliance among public authorities, especially around issues of timeliness and quality of their responses to information requests.
We also know that to be fully effective, access to information legislation needs to remain fit for purpose. So we will continue to make the case, for example, for reform to the scope of freedom of information legislation in relation to the provision of outsourced services.
Importantly, to achieve these goals we want to work closely with our stakeholders and partners across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Whether you are a public authority, a private contractor providing public services, a journalist, campaigner, parliamentarian, councillor or a member of the public, we want to hear what you think. Consultation closes on Friday 8 March.
You can read the draft strategy in full here and submit your comments here.
Gill Bull is Director of Freedom of Information at the Information Commissioner’s Office where she is responsible for the ICO’s Freedom of Information and Environmental Information casework and compliance.