Information Commissioner’s Office seeks local opinion on FOIs

Written by Rebecca Hill on 15 September 2016 in News

The Information Commissioner’s Office is conducting a survey of councils to find out what their information governance frameworks are like.

ICO wants to get more detail on local data governance - Photo credit: PA

The information rights watchdog said in a statement announcing the survey that audit work showed this was an area councils often struggled with.

Last year, 40% of Freedom of Information complaints and 10% of data protection concerns that the ICO assessed were related to local authorities – although these were both lower than the proportion received in the previous years, down from 46% and 11%, respectively.

However, a number of councils have been investigated over their information governance, with Redbridge Council recently being told to make considerable improvements to its data protection practices and Wolverhampton Council having to sign a commitment to improve staff data-protection training.

The ICO also has the power to monitor public bodies’ handling of FOI requests, with Trafford Council being one of the local authorities on that list.

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John-Pierre Lamb, good practice group manager at the ICO, said: “We intend to use the survey answers to identify common areas of good practice and weakness within the sector. This will help us target the advice we offer and assist us in improving information governance in local government generally.”

In an interview with PublicTechnology earlier this year, Lamb said that the reasons for breaches include poor resourcing and the sheer number of inquiries.

However, he added that some very good information governance teams could be undermined by a “culture” in senior management that doesn’t take accountability and responsibility for data protection seriously.

“Sometimes information governance teams are sidelined, and not really integrated into the organisation,” he said. “Even a very good data protection manager with a good data protection officer is going to struggle in that sort of environment. That is an issue we frequently find.”

The survey offers information governance managers the chance to respond anonymously, both by person and by council. Respondents are just asked which of the four UK nations their council is in and whether it is unitary or two-tiered.

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