From the archives we can see that on 12 November 2008 the ACAS website included the ACAS Publication Scheme this document stated that:

“The Acas publication scheme is drawn up under Section 19 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (opens in a new window).”

Section 19 of the Act states that “It shall be the duty of every public authority to adopt and maintain a scheme” – it would appear that ACAS considered itself to be a public authority for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 at the time the publication scheme was published (especially given the reference to Section 19 of the Act).

In November 2008 the ACAS website also included the following: “If you would like to request information from Acas under the Freedom of Information Act, write to us at:”


As late as February 2010 ACAS advised a requester of his right to Appeal to the Information Commissioner.


It appears that by 29 March 2010 they changed their mind:


On a strict reading of the provisions of the FoIA, Acas is not a ‘public authority’ and as a consequence any information which Acas holds is not susceptible to FoIA disclosure. However, as a mainly publicly funded body, Acas seeks generally to act as if it were subject to the FoIA and to comply with obligations on public authorities subject to the Act, as long as to do so would not breach any reasonable expectations of confidentiality individuals and organisations with whom Acas deals in its dispute resolution and other work might have, or where the release of information would be prejudicial to the conduct of public affairs, or where it was obtained in confidence.”


response 29 March 2010

This is especially confusing as the Information Commissioner has issued a decision notice (FS50086170) in which a complaint against ACAS was upheld – the Commissioner has no power to issue decision notices against bodies not subject to the Act.  Further more the ICO specifically considered whether or nor ACAS is a public authority in this decision notice:


“Given the uncertainty as to whether or not ACAS was in fact covered by the Act, the Commissioner made an enquiry of the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA, now the Ministry of Justice (MOJ)).Having consulted with the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), DCA confirmed in an email to the Commissioner that ACAS was covered by the Act by virtue of its relationship with the Department of Trade and Industry (now Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR)).The Commissioner subsequently confirmed this in writing to ACAS on 19 January 2007.”





 

“We can now operate regional closed user groups.  These are local groups where people contribute with regard to local matters.  You will not see a group unless you are a member of one.  The main benefits include confidentiality, NAIM is not subject to FOI, a reduction in inbox content, an archive of issues etc etc.”

If you are not a member then click the join us link on the left. Registration is always easier when using a business e-mail address and public service addresses such as .gov.uk, .ac.uk, .nhs etc. Where personal e-mail addresses are provided we will usually require confirmation of your reasons for joining. Acceptable categories do not include casual interest or non related information management functions.”

http://www.naim.uk.net/ 

[NAIM stands for National Association for Information Management]

It is clear they are targeting public sector workers who are also ‘information managers’.


“My Lords, does not the Minister feel thoroughly ashamed that a Government who came to power committed to freedom of information and ending the culture of secrecy in Whitehall cannot even provide a list of the times and dates when the Prime Minister saw the most powerful media magnate in the world?”

Source: Theyworkforyou

“My Lords, does the Minister agree that a fee structure that charged exorbitant fees for freedom of information would in fact be the freedom to dine at the Ritz?”

Source: Theyworkforyou

“I have the pleasure of moving this amendment on behalf of my noble friends Lord Goodhart and Lord Lester. It would replace the unlimited period for disclosing information in the public interest with a 20-day limit. We strongly believe in the amendment.”

Source: Theyworkforyou

“perhaps it is something that the CBI and the private sector will have to take on board–that doing business with the public sector, which for many companies is very profitable indeed and very attractive, carries with it certain freedom of information responsibilities.”

Source: Theyworkforyou

“the crux of debate today is on Clause 34 of the Bill, “Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs”. Where we part from the Government is that they still believe that the effective conduct of public affairs requires too much secrecy. We believe that effective conduct of public affairs comes from accountability and transparency. Ministers may deny it; but a profound change has taken place in the Government’s attitude to freedom of information since taking office.”

“There was a good example of that last weekend when it was reported that an apparent tiff between Sir Anthony Eden and Churchill about the timing of Churchill’s retirement had been kept secret for 50 years. It seems extraordinary that that should be so. A number of the embargos on the workings of government, the security services and royalty belong to a different age.”

Source: Theyworkforyou


another from: Theyworkforyou

OK, so the economy is the big issue in this election and FOI isn’t and probably never will be but it does matter as FOI can arm the public information about public services, public spending and decision making.

Right now the full result of the election are not known but we do know that no one party has an overall majority. I am optimistic about the opportunities that a hung parliament presents for achieving better FOI laws an greater transparency.

Minority Government means majority non-government
In general Governments have more to lose from increased transparency and opposition parties have more to gain. A minority Government might struggle to resist changes to the law to increase transparency if a number of other parties supported the changes.

Transparency as part of a deal
A party such as the Liberal Democrats could insist on changes to the law to increase transparency as a part of a much larger deal. This of course assumes that agreement can be reached on the major issues such as the economy and health. The Liberal Democrats would like to see the ‘ministerial veto’ scrapped.

On individual bills before Parliament we could see amendments to build in transparency e.g. bills which create new public bodies could be amended to make the newly created bodies subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Conservatives as the single largest party

The Conservative support a number of improvements to Freedom of Information for example they favour the publication of the COINS database.

“A Conservative government will increase the range of publically funded bodies that are
subject to scrutiny using Section 5 orders under the Freedom of Information Act. … We will extend the Freedom of Information Act to these organisations within weeks of the General Election.”

The organisations that the Conservatives would like to make subject to FOI include Network Rail, Northern Rock,The Carbon Trust, The Energy Saving Trust, the NHS Confederation (in relation to activities in receipt of public funds), the Local Government Association and
Traffic Penalty Tribunals. (Big Ideas for real change in politics)

Addtofoi has been campaigning for these bodies and many others to be made subject to FOI for some time and will continue to do so.

Recently CFOI compared the position of the three main parties on Freedom of Information based on there manifestoes.

I wanted to find out about some of the other parties’ policies, UKIP have replied today:

“…Thank you for your email, which has been passed on to me as a member of the UKIP policy team.

UKIP supports the right for the British people to find out more from government about how decisions are made, information the government keeps on government business and where the government spends our money. The Freedom of Information Act is an invaluable tool to empower the British people.

Best wishes, …”

MY EMAIL TO ICO

Dear ICO
I am writing to complain about the general approach taken by public
officials to those requests addressed to the House of Commons and the
House of Lords to:

(a) requests received prior to dissolution but not yet answered; and
(b) requests received during dissolution.

I am also complaining specifically about the approach taken to a
request I made myself. [6]

I fully accept that Parliament has been dissolved however there are a
number of other factors the Information Commissioner should consider
in dealing with this complaint. I am sure you will appreciate that
a general election is a time of increased awareness of politics and
that it is very damaging for democracy if questionable technicalities
are used to avoid disclosing information to the public.

The standard response being used by officials is [1][2][6]:

“When Parliament has been dissolved there is no ‘House of Commons[or
Lords]’ for the purposes of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act, and
there is therefore no ‘public authority’ to which the 20 day deadline
under section 10 of the 2000 Act is capable of applying. The time
limits do not, therefore, apply during the period of Dissolution.

The effect of the 2000 Act, including its time limits, resumes when
the new House of Commons/Lords first meets. “

(1) Under Section 10 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the
Act’) public authorities must reply to requests “promptly”. If the
House of Commons considered that it would cease to be a public
authority on dissolution it ought to have interpreted the word
“promptly” in that context. This would mean applying significant
additional resources to ensuring as many requests as possible were
dealt with prior to dissolution. I have not seen any evidence of
this.

(2) Requests for information that could include environmental
information [e.g. requests for copies of internal newsletters] should
of course be considered with reference to the Environmental
Information Regulations 2004 (“EIR”). EIR would apply to the House of
Commons Commission which exists even during the period of
dissolution[3]. EIR would also apply to the the Corporate Officer of
the House of Commons and the Corporate Officer of the House of Lords
(corporations with perpetual succession established by the
Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Act 1992. Requests received by
officials during dissolution cannot be received by those officials in
their capacity as agents of a public authority that does not exist so
arguably the requests for information are requests received by one of
the corporate bodies which continue to exist during dissolution.

(3) UK law includes explicit time extensions for schools recognising
the difficult of responding during school holidays legislators would
have made explicit provision for a time extension during the
dissolution period had this been their intention.

(4) The Freedom of Information Act 2000 was clearly intended to
provide a general and uninterrupted right of access to documents held
by public officials and public bodies an section 3(2)(b) of the Act
states that a public authority is deemed to hold information if the
information “is held by another person on behalf of the authority.”
This adds further weight to the argument that Parliament’s records and
documents should remain accessible regardless of which legal body has
control of them at any given time.

(5) According to the dissolution guidance published on the Parliament
website: “The House of Commons Information Office’s services for the
public will operate as usual. [during the dissolution period]” [4]
This statement seems at odds with what is actually happening.

(6) Section 77 of the Act is clearly intended to prevent public
officials from destroying records to avoid disclosure under the Act.
[5] If the House of Commons really ceases to exist as a public
authority during the dissolution period for the purposes of the Act
then officials would be able to destroy records “with the intention of
preventing the disclosure” without committing a offence under that
section. It seems very unlikely that this would be what the
legislators intended.

(7) (a) According to the Parliament website: “Members of the House of
Lords are appointed – not elected – so during dissolution they remain
Members.” this suggests that perhaps the House of Lords does exist
during dissolution.[8]

(7) (b) According to the Parliament website: “When Parliament is
dissolved every seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant.” this
suggests that perhaps the House of Commons does exist in some form
after dissolution as it refers to the seats being vacate rather than
the seats ceasing to exist but this may just be a poor choice of
wording.[8]

(8) My person view is that the best way to interpret the law is that
the officials of the Palace of Westminster are required to continue to
respond to requests under the Act during the period of dissolution.

(9) Even if the ICO has no legal powers to intervene in this matter
please can you at least write to the relevant officials and remind
them of “The Seven Principles of Public Life” in particular:

“Accountability
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and
actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny
is appropriate to their office.” [7]

and

“Openness
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the
decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for
their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public
interest clearly demands.” [7]

Notes appear at the foot of this email. Thank you for your time and
consideration in this matter

John

———————-

John Cross

[1] http://www.mysociety.org/2010/04/13/parliament-foi-delay-dissolved/
[2] http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/newsletters#incoming-79897
[3] “On a dissolution of Parliament the person who is then Mr. Speaker
shall continue in office as a member of the Commission until a Speaker
is chosen by the new Parliament.” Schedule 1 3(1) of the House of
Commons (Administration) Act 1978
[4]http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/dissolutionarrangements.pdf
[5] “any person to whom this subsection applies is guilty of an
offence if he alters, defaces, blocks, erases, destroys or conceals
any record held by the public authority, with the intention of
preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of
the information to the communication of which the applicant would have
been entitled.” Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000
[6] A request I made – http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/crowned_portcullis
[7] http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/About/The_7_Principles.html
[8] http://news.parliament.uk/2010/04/dissolution-of-parliament-12-april-2010/


John Cross

If you have ever wondered about the Government Wine Cellars, you should probably read this response to an FOI request:

“The five most expensive wines currently in stock in the Government Hospitality cellar are:
Château Lafite 1998
Château Cheval Blanc 1996
Château Haut-Brion 1996
Château Trotanoy 1998
and Vieux Château Certan 2005.”

“the wines listed ranged in cost from £78.00 per bottle to £132.00 per bottle.”

“The five most expensive wines purchased for the cellar during 2009 were:

Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2006
Château Lynch-Bages 2005
Château Pichon-Longueville Baron 2005
Château Léoville-Barton 2005
and Vieux Château Certan 2005″

“the wines listed ranged in cost from £57.00 per bottle to £132.00 per bottle.”

It would appear that the “Vieux Château Certan 2005″ is the most expensive as it appears on both lists so it is probably £132 per bottle.

I found a website selling 8 bottles for £1,050 which works out at £131.25 each.

“I am the head of Chemistry in a Scottish Secondary school. One of my senior pupils is investigating methods of determining copper and iron in 2p coins.”

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/copper_content_in_a_2p_coin#incoming-20865

The answer supplied ten days later was 7% Copper and 93% mild steel (with tolerances also disclosed).

This is a really good simple example of the benefit to the public from Freedom of Information laws in general and WhatDoTheyKnow.com in particular.

I have incorporated the Royal Mint’s response into this Wikipedia article:

Two pence (British decimal coin)

Recently, a WhatDoTheyKnow.com volunteer was answering a query from a user of the site and was surprised to learn that the site already had the Deer Commission for Scotland listed. It was noted that Whatdotheyknow.com has quite a lot of public bodies as of 12:30pm today there are 3,303 public authorities sites on the site although 74 of these authorities are now marked as defunct. You might also want to exclude the 27 Water Companies, although these are ‘public authorities’ for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations. That still leaves about 3,200 active public authorities. So the next question for me is: how many public bodies are there in the UK?
The answer is no-one knows.

“We discovered early on that there are no precise figures for the very large number of people who are appointed to this great variety of public bodies and positions, nor even for how many public bodies exist.”

Select Committee on Public Administration Fourth Report (2003)

So if no-one has a complete list how does Whatdotheyknow.com’s list of about 3,200 compare to other lists and directories – who has the most comprehensive list?

The Cabinet Office’s best effort is probably Public Bodies 2008 which puts the number of non-department at 790 (sometimes called Quangos). Added to that there are around 24 Government Departments listed bring the total to 814. These numbers exclude schools, colleges, universities, local government, the police, the NHS, and devolved government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in other words this list of public bodies excludes more than it includes. The Tax Payers’ Alliance put the number of Quangos at 1,162.

What is almost unique about Whatdotheyknow.com’s list of public authorities is that it covers the whole lot (central, regional and local government, Parliament, the NHS, the Police, educational institutions, housing associations, publicly owned companies etc)

I say almost unique because buried in a dark corner of the Office for National Statistics website that is actually quite useful, it is called MA23 or to give it its full name the Sector Classification Guide. In order to prepare ‘National Accounts’ for Europe the Government has to have some kind of list of public sector bodies and MA23 contains that list.

The classification is not decided based on the political considerations of the current government but on internationally agreed definitions e.g. central government s1311, Public non-financial corporations and for this reason is more comprehensive than all the other lists the Government publishes.

MA23 lists the following rows:

  • 1,018 central government bodies
  • 42 central government funds
  • 3 central banks
  • 369 public corporations
  • 5 public insurance corporations and pension funds
  • 377 local government bodies
  • 3 local government funds

I make that about 1,800 in total but many of the rows are not for a single named public authority but for a whole class of public authorities. MA23 certainly does not contain a more comprehensive lists of public authorities than Whatdotheyknow.com but is very useful and includes some less well known bodies such as:

  • Dorneywood Trust
  • Eblex Limited
  • Jebwill
  • Orford Town Trustees
  • World Poultry Science Association
  • Yorkshire and Humber Regional Aggregation Body

The COINS database is less comprehensive and perhaps more influenced by UK politics but it does contain over 1,700 public authorities.