The information law regulator has reached an agreement with itself to hold a regular series of meetings with itself, so that its staff can check up on how its staff are doing on answering freedom of information requests.
One of the tasks of the Information Commissioner’s Office is to try to improve the performance of public authorities with a particularly bad track record on dealing with FOI applications, such as … the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Last month the ICO revealed it would writing to the, um, ICO, to find out about the ICO’s plans to do better in future and so avoid being further criticised by, yes, the ICO.
This has now happened, and in an unusually speedy response to my FOI request, the ICO has sent me the correspondence.
It reveals that in the first nine months of the current financial year, the ICO only responded to 71% of FOI requests on time. At Christmas there were three requests that were over a year overdue.
The group manager for complaints wrote to the head of corporate planning to say: “We cannot ignore the fact that we have had an increasing number of complaints reported to us about the ICO in relation to late compliance with information requests. Adverse media coverage and blogs have also reported on these issues … We are therefore requesting a formal update on your recovery plans”.
The reply says “We recognise our performance is not where it should be”.
The recovery plan has now been published on the ICO website. It says they are recruiting and reallocating staff, with the aim of ensuring that 90% of FOI requests are responded to on time by the end of June, while requests over a year overdue should be cleared by the end of February.
This is all to do with the FOI requests which the ICO itself receives, not the complaints it assesses about the processing of FOI requests sent to other public bodies. That side of the ICO’s operations is also affected by serious delays.
The disclosed correspondence shows that the complaints team will meet monthly with the information access team to review progress. All those who comment agree that the ICO should treat itself in the same way it would treat any other public authority with an inadequate record of compliance with FOI law.
It does seem somewhat absurd, but it is nevertheless better than alternative arrangements – such as the ICO not being subject to FOI requests at all, or not falling under the oversight of an information rights regulator, or being let off the hook by its own staff rather than publicly and embarrassingly rebuked.
On the other hand, this process wouldn’t be necessary if the ICO actually responded promptly and efficiently to information requests.
While this request was responded to quickly, another of my FOI requests has not had a reply from the ICO nearly three months after it was submitted.