DCA backs down on release of FOI data
Until now the Department for Constitutional Affairs has refused to release raw background data relating to its assessment of the cost of freedom of information. This was based on a one-week sample of FOI requests received by government departments.
The DCA has today sent the BBC the dataset for its one-week sample of FOI requests; what it calls its 'initial analysis' of the data; and the template filled out by those supplying the data. This was in response to a request for an internal review from the BBC.
Some interesting points immediately stand out:
There are numerous discrepancies between the cost estimates of FOI in the DCA analysis and those in the Frontier Economics report, about which I have written in the past. The latter gave the total annual cost of FOI for central government as £24.4 million, but the comparable figure in the DCA analysis is only £21.9 million.
According to the dataset sample, government ministers were involved in 10 per cent of information requests (53 out of 538 in this week). But there are strange aspects to the cases Ministers get involved in.
They were involved in none of the 35 internal reviews from this period. On the other hand, in 15 per cent of the cases with ministerial involvement (8 of the 53) the requester was told that the information was ‘not held’. It is not obvious why ministers need to be involved in telling requesters that the information sought is not actually held … unless there are some tricky decisions about how widely, or narrowly, to interpret the information requested.
Even more strangely, in one case (number 156), government managed to assess whether it was in the public interest to release information which it then decided it did not hold. Or to those with experience of using FOI – it is perhaps not so strange.
However, it is notable that the data supplied does not divide the cases up according to the government department involved. The Campaign for Freedom of Information has asked the DCA for the returns from each department, but it has not been sent them.