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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round-up: 4 to 8 November 2013

Eight decisions were published this week.

 

Key message:

As regular readers will know, in most editions of the Decisions Round-up we highlight technical decisions involving a failure to respond to a request or a review (and sometimes both) within the statutory timescales. This week was exceptional - we published eight decisions, seven of which focused on a failure to respond.  Even the eighth decision was a follow-up to a case involving a failure to respond to a request and request for review.

We are understandably concerned. Failure to respond is, at the most basic level, a denial of a statutory right to request information. The Commissioner is resolved to raise awareness of the issue and to tackle it: 

  • The Commissioner highlighted the issue in her Annual Report 2012/13, where she noted that 27% of appeals made to her office related to a failure by authorities to respond within FOI timescales.
  • Our recent public awareness research found that only 10% of respondents were very confident that they would get an FOI response within 20 working days of making a request and 12% were not confident at all.
  • The Commissioner  will soon lay a special report before the Scottish Parliament  looking at the impact “technical breaches” have on both requesters and public authorities. 

 

You can increase the likelihood of responding within FOI timescales if you have: 

  • chief executive and senior management team buy-in to the principles of FOI and how this is integrated into the organisation’s corporate information management and governance arrangements  
  • robust performance reporting systems, including reporting at a senior level
  • clearly defined roles and responsibilities of those involved in dealing with FOI requests and staff are aware of the arrangements
  • clear administrative arrangements to allow FOI officers to escalate issues to senior management
  • robust logging and tracking systems to ensure that issues can be picked up in plenty of time
  • sufficient resilience arrangements in place to avoid bottlenecks when the usual staff are not available; and
  • effective basic training arrangements to ensure that all staff within an authority can identifyinformation requests (both written and verbal) and know who to pass the request to for processing.

 

 Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 239/2013 - Mr Roy Mackay and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
  • Decision 240/2013 - Mr Roy Mackay and Stirling Council
  • Decision 241/2013 - Mr Roy Mackay and Highland Council
    Three technical decisions, where we found that each Council had failed to respond to Mr Mackay’s information requests and/or requests for review within 20 working days.

 

  • Decision 242/2013 - Mr Andrew Picken and the Scottish Ministers
  • Decision 243/2013 - Mr Andrew Picken and the Scottish Ministers
    Two technical decisions, where we found that the Ministers had not responded to either of Mr Picken’s information requests and requests for review within the statutory 20 working days.

 

  • Decision 244/2013 - Tayside Aviation and Transport Scotland
    Another technical decision where we found that Transport Scotland had not responded to Tayside Aviation’s request for review within statutory timescales.

 

  • Decision 245/2013 - Eighteen and Under and Dundee City Council
    In this case the Council initially responded by confirming that it didn’t hold any of the information requested. Following a more robust search by the Council during the investigation, information falling within the scope of the request was identified and provided to the requester.

 

  • Decision 246/2013 - Andrew Whitaker and the Scottish Ministers  
    In this case, we found that the Ministers had failed to respond to Mr Whitaker’s request for review within 20 working days. 

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