BBC & Essex Police improve response times to FOI requests


The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has praised the BBC and Essex Police for improving their response times to Freedom of Information requests, but has vowed to keep tabs on four local councils over concerns they are still dragging their feet on handing over data to the public.

The ICO said the BBC and Essex Police were monitored between 1 May and 31 July 2014 following a significant number of complaints to it over delays in their response times.

During this period, both the BBC and Essex Police significantly improved their performance, with over 95 per cent of FOI requests being responded to within the statutory deadline of 20 working days.

"We are pleased that the BBC and Essex Police have risen to the challenge after being placed on our FOI monitoring list," said ICO's deputy commissioner and director of Freedom of Information, Graham Smith.

"The monitoring exercise should be seen as a wake-up call to authorities to address the problems they are having. 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 said Greenwich Council's performance, which was also monitored during this period, would continue to be observed. The authority is not due to submit the details of its FOI response times for July until later this month.

While the BBC and Essex Police were praised for upping their game, the ICO said the London Borough of Lambeth, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Warwick District Council and Wigan Council, would now be monitored after each council was the subject of a significant number of FOI complaints to the ICO over delays in their response times.

The ICO will be examining the timeliness of all four councils' responses to FOI requests received between 1 September and 30 November 2014, as a result.

"The four councils we have named today should see their inclusion on the latest monitoring list as a clear signal they need to improve their practices," said Smith.

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

Other public bodies will also continue to be monitored by the ICO for the timeliness of their FOI responses, including the Cabinet Office, Crown Prosecution Service and Hackney Council, covering the period 1 January to 31 March 2014.

The ICO said the Cabinet Office and the Crown Prosecution Service had significantly improved their performances with over 90 per cent of FOI requests being responded to in time. Following an extended period of monitoring, Hackney Council also made significant improvements. All three public authorities have now come off formal monitoring.

However, the ICO said it remained concerned over the time taken to respond to FOI requests by the Metropolitan Police. Despite numerous internal changes aimed at improving its performance, the authority is still failing to respond to over 85 per cent of requests in time, the ICO claimed. The ICO will be meeting with representatives from the authority in the coming weeks and will then decide whether further action is required, it confirmed.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.