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  • Strong and stable FoI

    Posted on May 12th, 2010 admin No comments
    A representative Government?

    A representative Government?

    So we have a new Government at last and this Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition is looking around for things they can agree on.

    Well rumour has it that one thing they are going to take from their manifestos and bring to Parliament is a so-called Freedom Bill.

    This was a plank of Liberal Democrat policy and pledged to strengthen the powers of the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

    It specifically made mention of bringing private companies under the Act if they are delivering monopoly services to the public. They specifically mention that Network Rail should be brought under FoI legislation, but I presume it would also then extend to utility organisations like water and power companies.

    The reason it would appear that this may be pushed through is that it is not completely at odds with Conservative policy, which although less specific did make noises about strengthening the power of the Information Commissioner, giving him the power to fine organisations that are found guilty of mismanaging data.

    So it would appear that Clegg and Cameron can find common ground on a Freedom of Information agenda and the power and reach of the legislation could even be extended.

    If this does come to fruition and private companies working in the public sector are brought under the Act it means the Information Commissioner will have to do his second U-turn on the issue – he really must be getting quite dizzy.

    It was assumed that water companies did fall under the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) after a decision relating to Sutton and East Surrey Water PLC (FER0118853 and FER0162211).

    However a decision released in March by the Commissioner [FER0260426] reversed that ruling and stated that water and sewerage companies were not public authorities for the purposes of the EIR. This decision notice, which isn’t on the Commissioner’s website (e-mail me if you want a copy), refered to a complaint I had made against Thames Water [link].

    This reversal, that is signed off by poacher-turned-gamekeeper Steve Wood, used an Information Tribunal decision relating to Network Rail (EA/2006/0061 and EA/2006/0062) as part of the rationale for exempting such companies.

    Now it appears the world might be turned on its head again and the legal decisions are to be trumped by the lawmakers.

    So if they have got time between working out where the cuts are going to go the Government may just give the Freedom of Information world a bit of a shake down.

  • EIR homing in on the Utility giants

    Posted on September 21st, 2009 admin No comments
    Whose dung is it anyway?

    Whose dung is it anyway?

    I had a call from the Information Commissioner’s office yesterday about the prospect of utility companies falling under the remit of the Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs).

    When the Act first came in it was implied that water and electricity utilities would come under the umbrella of those organisations that were covered by the Act.

    However, perhaps unsurprisingly the utility companies have not all wanted to join the information revolution.

    The key part of the Act is S.2 and says that those bodies that fall under the Act include “any other body or other person, that carries out functions of public administration” – not unreasonably people had expected that those organisations that bring us our water and electricity might fall under this section.

    Some utilities already accept this view and are answering Environmental Information Requests already. But not all of them.

    I asked Thames Water the following question earlier this year: “Please could you tell me the volume of human sewage, referred to as sludge, that has been sold by Thames Water in each of the following financial years (05/06), (06/07), (07/08) and (08/09)? For each year also state the total income received by Thames Water for the sale of the product.”

    I thought the fact that Thames Water might be coining it in by selling our c**p (quite literally) to farmers would make a good story. My letter to the Chief Executive went unanswered I’m afraid, as did a follow up to the press office.

    So I complained to the Information Commissioner and was told that I am one of at least ten requests that are being “parked” while the issue of whether the EIRs apply to utilities is discussed.

    It would appear that a number of tactics are being used by the Information Commissioner to resolve the issue and that legal action against the utilities is not being ruled out, although a voluntary agreement would be preferable.

    I am told the issue will be settled “sooner rather than later” but remembering the Commissioner works to a geological timescale I won’t be holding my breath.