FOI stats

Half a million questions

Source: Cabinet Office FOI statistics, my projection

My prediction is that today, somewhere in Whitehall, a civil servant will receive a request for information which is the half-millionth freedom of information application to UK central government departments since the FOI law came into force in 2005.

This is based on my extrapolation from the official quarterly FOI statistics for central government issued by the Cabinet Office.

Their published quarterly figures don’t include the cumulative numbers since FOI started, but I’ve been keeping track of the running total, as shown in my chart above.

At the time of the latest published data, for quarter 1 of 2022, the cumulative number of requests to government departments stood at 491,838.

The Cabinet Office won’t be releasing their next set of statistics, covering Q2 of 2022, until September, but I’ve made a projection. Assuming the number of requests in Q2 of 2022 is 7.8% down on last year, the same factor by which requests in Q1 of 2022 were down on the corresponding quarter of last year, then my estimated cumulative total after the end of quarter 2 of 2022 is just over the half million mark, at 500,076 FOI requests submitted to departments since 2005.

On this basis the half-millionth request would just squeeze into the current quarter, today!

If you’re the recipient, congratulations. I feel it should be accompanied by some kind of prize, but sadly no one, not even you, will actually know.

So that is half a million questions. The number of decent answers? Well, that’s a different issue altogether.

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Rural Payments Agency failings

The Rural Payments Agency fails to deal with most information requests it receives within the legal time limits, according to the latest set of FOI statistics published today.

The RPA, which issues subsidy payments to farmers in England, managed to meet the legal deadline in only 47 per cent of cases in the first quarter of 2021, the period covered by these figures. This was by far the worst record of delay among the departments and agencies monitored in these statistics – and continues a pattern of the RPA’s comparative poor performance.

The government department with the worst record of delay was DCMS.

Generally there was a 10 per cent increase in the number of FOI requests to the UK government departments and agencies monitored compared to the same period last year, after drops in the intervening months doubtless linked to the pandemic.

Organisations which have received significantly more requests include the Department of Health and Social Care (hardly surprisingly), the Charity Commission and the Office for National Statistics.

The longer term overall picture, as seen in my chart, is that the level of FOI requests to government departments increased steadily after FOI came into force in 2005 until it peaked in 2013, since when there has been a slightly bumpy plateau. (The chart is adjusted to reflect the fact that the first quarter of each year tends to see the most requests).

Chart showing FOI requests to UK government departments since 2005

Rural Payments Agency failings Read More »