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Only sixteen months to go

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Martin Rosenbaum | 12:20 UK time, Friday, 5 February 2010

The Arts Council England has rejected a freedom of information request from the BBC - because it intends to publish the material by sixteen months from now.

My colleague Julia Ross asked the Council for some data relating to A Night Less Ordinary, their scheme for providing free theatre tickets to people under 26 at selected venues in England.

The Arts Council turned down her FOI application about the scheme's cost and the characteristics of those participating in it on the grounds that it "intends to publish this information by June 2011".

Under the UK FOI Act requests can be dismissed if the material is intended for future publication, and withholding it is reasonable and in the public interest. The refusal notice from the Arts Council does not explain why they think their response is reasonable and in the public interest, so the BBC will be pressing them further.

While the Scottish FOI law lays down that the "future publication" exemption can only apply if the material requested is to be published within 12 weeks, no such maximum period is specified in the UK legislation which affects England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And while we're on the subject of delays in the publication of information, those of us who eagerly look out for decision notices from the Information Commissioner's Office have noticed they seem to have dried up.

In January the ICO only placed one decision notice on its website. It still hasn't published the judgment on my Westland request, although it was decided on 22 December. Matt Davies of FOI News also points out that he's still waiting for a decision notice on one of his complaints to be published by the ICO.

The ICO tells me that in fact it issued 47 decision notices in January, but it has had problems putting them on its website. It says it will be trying to release as many as possible of them over the next few days.

Update 1617: The ICO has now posted the decision notice in the Westland case [68Kb PDF].


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