'Staggering' increase in ICO appeals
The difficulty faced by the Information Commissioner's Office in tackling its large backlog of complaints was reinforced today at the launch of its latest annual report.
In the first quarter of 2009/10 the ICO received 967 new freedom of information appeals - over 200 more than in any previous quarter. This data, which is more recent than that contained in the annual report, was revealed by the Deputy Commissioner Graham Smith who described the figure as "quite staggering".
In 2008/9 the ICO closed about as many cases as it received, but it has failed to make inroads into the huge backlog. This means that significant cases often take well over a year and sometimes more than two or three. Its task will be made harder if the number received grows significantly, possibly due to the publicity about MPs' expenses prompting an increase in use of FOI.
It's clear that the incoming Commissioner Chris Graham is determined to work within the current level of resources to try to improve the speed and efficiency of the operation. We can discard the suggestion, discussed in my previous entry, that letters sent to complainants about delay could indicate the new man bringing in a more aggressive public stance over resourcing.
Mr Graham seemed to indicate today that he would start by giving more priority to this process than to engaging in public debate on the impact of FOI. He said that as a new Commissioner he would have to establish a right to be listened to with respect by showing that he was running a tight ship. He added that when he intervenes in public debate he wants to be able to do so from a position of strength.
The outgoing Commissioner Richard Thomas argued that the ICO has been making good progress, but said that one of his few regrets about his period in office was that funding for FOI had not kept pace with need. He admitted that this was one area where the office had not been successful.
We will have to wait and see whether Mr Graham is ruefully saying the same when his time as Information Commissioner comes to an end.