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Information Commissioner: progress on FOI backlog

In the Justice Committee evidence session on Tuesday 5 January, the Information Commissioner outlined the progress that has been made in clearing the backlog of FOI complaints:

Christopher Graham: Over the past 6 months, we’ve put great priority on clearing the backlog and the figures are actually more encouraging than the figures that the minister quoted in the debate [adjournment debate] simply because things have accelerated like a train so the latest figures are better. If I can help the Committee, despite the fact that receipts of appeals to the Information Commissioner’s Office are markedly up over the same period last year, in the period April to December 2009 compared to 2008 we’ve had a 21% increase in business, at the same time we’ve had a 43% increase in closures…We have already closed more cases in the first 9 months of the financial year, than in the whole of 2008-2009. Overall, since April, our caseload has dropped by 30% and the cases over a year old are now down by 52%. The very old cases, which is what we prioritise to get rid of, those cases over 2 years old are down by 70% and when perhaps later on I’m able to come and talk about our annual report, I think I will have an even more encouraging picture. I won’t say it’s satisfactory we’re in the position we’re in but we are making great strides in clearing the backlog, which I said to the Committee was a priority because, if you remember, I said unless we can demonstrate that we’re an effective body, we won’t be listened to on any other issue.

Chairman: In a letter you sent to me you indicated that, of course, some of the problems aren’t caused by your office they’re caused by repeatedly having to go back to government departments to get the information but there’s a more robust attitude and I paraphrase slightly to that process might assist in speeding up the outcomes. Have you had any success in indicating to departments they’ve got to get a move on?

Christopher Graham: Yes, I think public authorities in general have got the message that the ICO is speeding up and we’re onto the case. I give you an example of a decision notice we took about land acquisitions for the olympics. The London Development Agency understood from us that unless they could answer our questions and put up their best case, we would take a decision on the information we had to hand and that’s what we did and that message gets across. I’ve been invited to address permanent secretaries at Sir Gus O’Donnell’s meeting on 20 January and the message I will be putting is that we’re generally being a tougher partner to deal with. And as we wire through the backlog, we are getting onto cases more quickly, the message I think will get across and we should be able to speed up generally. But it’s very important to recognise that it’s not just whether the Information Commissioner’s Office is getting through the work, it’s whether the public authorities are responding promptly enough either in the first place to Freedom of Information enquiries or to our enquiries in the course of an investigation.

You can listen to the evidence in full here.

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