Public Services > Central Government

The Met mulls “significant change” to its FoI policy

Neil Merrett Published 23 September 2014

Service considers centralising staff dealing with FoI responses into single unit as part of long-term response to “problem” of dealing with high number of requests

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) will continue to make "significant changes" to how it processes Freedom of Information (FoI) requests in response to concerns raised by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) over the timeliness of its responses.

The MPS is among a number of public sector organisations including the Cabinet Office, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Hackney Council to have been monitored by the ICO after the regulator received a "significant number" of complaints about delays in their provision of FoI responses.

While the Cabinet Office, CPS and Hackney Council were no longer being formerly monitored by the ICO after posting improved responses to FoI requests, the regulator said this week that it continued to hold concerns about the MPS' processing times.

"Despite numerous internal changes aimed at improving its performance, the authority is still failing to respond to over 85% of requests in time," said the regulator. "The ICO will be meeting with representatives from the authority in the coming weeks and will then decide whether further action is required."

As part of efforts to address problems with complying with Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) within the police service, MPS said it was now working to enhance its quality assurance team to deal with requests for information from across its operations.

"We have stepped up senior management awareness and intervention at individual business group level. We are also exploring the possibility at a strategic level of centralising all FoIA staff into a single business unit," read a statement from the police service.

"This will ensure that the appropriate skill levels are maintained and that there is resilience to cover high demand periods. This will lead to a sustainable solution that can deliver the transparency required by not only the FoIA and other legislation, but also that set by the MPS. In the last financial year, the MPS received in excess of 5,000 requests for information under the FoIA."

The service said it took commitments to requests received under the FoIA and wider issues of transparency seriously, while sharing the ICO's concerns about compliance rates.

The data regulator also announced this week that it was monitoring the London Borough of Lambeth, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Warwick District Council and Wigan Council over receiving a number of complaints about their respective FoI response times.

ICO deputy commissioner Graham Smith said the four councils were being monitored as a sign of the need for improvement in the timeliness of their responses.

"Responding to FOI requests within the permitted timeframe is one of the cornerstones of ensuring transparent local governance," he said. "We will be happy to work with the councils in their efforts to turn their performances around."

FoI praise

The ICO did however praise both the BBC and Essex Police, which were both monitored between May 1 and July 31 this year over their FoI response times following complaints received by the regulator.

During the monitoring period, both organisations were found to have improved their performance in responding to FoI requests, with 95% of queries being returned within the statutory deadline of 20 working days.

"The monitoring exercise should be seen as a wake-up call to authorities to address the problems they are having," added Graham Smith. "Both of these organisations should be proud of the changes they have made to make sure requests are responded to in a timely fashion and we expect these improvements to continue."

The ICO added that it was also continuing to monitor Greenwich Council over its responses to FoI requests. "The authority is not due to submit the details of its FOI response times for July until later this month," the regulator said.

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