Your 1st place for FoI News
RSS icon Email icon Home icon
  • WhatIsTheProblem.Com

    Posted on June 10th, 2010 admin 2 comments
    Where did they get that 1950s couple from?

    Where did they get that 1950s couple from?

    When WhatDoTheyKnow first appeared I have to admit that I was a little bit sceptical of the idea. I was wrong.

    Now I think it is a brilliant, easy way of asking questions. The idea of having the answers, and the questions, available for the whole world to view on-line is a masterstroke that intersects perfectly with the Freedom of Information Act’s principles of transparency and accountability.

    But not everybody is a fan. The fact that the data is automatically splashed up on the web for anybody to look at does seem to make some authorities nervous.

    I have deliberately used my account at WhatDoTheyKnow on occasions because it has been my perception that if the public authority knows it’s response to me will be on display to the rest of the world it might just take a little extra care.

    But there is a reluctance from some public authorities to engage with requests on WhatDoTheyKnow, which shows a somewhat prehistoric attitude towards the fundamental principle of openness which the Act was supposed to promote.

    A few examples:

    The House of Commons: Martin Rosenbaum’s excellent Open Secrets blog has recently covered this case in which a request was made for details of an electronic voting system. The House of Commons refused to release the information to the WhatDoTheyKnow e-mail site as they said the publication on the web would be a breach of copyright. The Information Commissioner has ruled against the House of Commons [decision notice] and the response can now be seen [here].

    Southampton University: Here the University bizarrely started to password protect its FoI answers that were posted on the site, yet the password was also posted! A few people, me included, sent in FoI requests to get a rationale for this decision. But that only seems to have made things worse. The most recent exchange [link] has the Uni holding an internal review after the person who made the request called them “brusque and snide” in its reply. Most amusingly we then have the University looking up the Oxford English Dictionary definition of those words. Snide = insinuating, sneering and slyly derogatory. But curiously the issue doesn’t seem to have moved on any and I’m still perplexed as to what the University’s position is, although it definitely isn’t slyly derogatory.

    Salford University: Many thanks to the person who pointed me into the path of this tower of learning. When you view its pages on the site [link] you will see that it is almost a default position to make somebody vexatious just because they are on the site. One of the most recent requests on WhatDoTheyKnow to the University asked a quite reasonable question asking why this was the case. Yes, you’ve guessed it them made the requester vexatious and refused to answer it. Intrigued by this approve I am left with no option but to make a similar request on papyrus and send it by Pony Express. I’ll let you know how I get on.

    NOTE: This week I was very kindly invited to be a guest at the ACPO/ACPOS Freedom of Information Conference in the Midlands. Some of the delegates said some nice things about this blog. Sometimes it can seem a lonely, pointless exercise writing it in glorious isolation. But those kind comments have re-invigorated me, and in the words of Shawshank Redemption I shall “Get Busy Blogging”.

  • A tale of two public authorities

    Posted on August 21st, 2009 admin No comments


    Happy days for the residents of Southampton

    No relevance to story other than it links to Southampton

    University of Southampton:

     They say that knowledge is power and in that statement is the root of the friction which Freedom of Information officers often feel from senior executives within the organisations where they work. Public authorities, and most particularly Government Departments, now have to work under a new mindset whereby they do not have power to determine to disclose or release their information.

    And once information is disclosed to one applicant under FoI it can be disclosed to the whole world, stuck on lamp-posts and projected up against the side of the Town Hall.

    Yet some authorities find it difficult to let go and make desperate attempts to convince the applicant that should they do anything with the data the sky will fall in on them.

    One new example of this is the incredible lengths that Southampton University are going to in telling an applicant what he can and can’t do with the information supplied to him under the FoI Act.

    It would appear from the University’s replies that have been posted on WhatDoTheyKnow that previously responses were sent out password protected.

    Now, however, they have altered their position slightly so that applicants have to tick saying they are the applicant and they agree by the copyright statement, which couldn’t be printed in bigger font.

    Have a go yourself here.

    University of Southampton’s FoI response

    As you will see they have also taken the bizarre decision to watermark the response with the e-mail address of the applicant. Why? What possible purpose can that serve?

    Anyhow I am asking the University of Southampton what legal discussions and advice it has had in developing its format for releasing information. [link] .

    And just in case Southampton want to attempt to sue me under copyright law the information in the applicant’s response was that it charged its poor students £64,762 for taking re-sits in 2007/08 and £125,665 for the same thing in the 2008/09 financial year.


    Robin in Da Hood should've asked for costs as well.

    Robin in Da Hood should've asked for costs as well.

    Nottingham City Council, which does not have a glorious history in the few short years since the Freedom of Information Act came into force, has now revealed it paid an applicant £8,000 in compensation after making a hash of his request.

    When the Information Tribunal ruled against the Council in a decision relating to information about a school the panel made some withering comments about the City Council’s approach to information disclosure.

    So unhappy was it with the way the council had approached the matter that it said costs should be awarded to the applicant.

    Following my Freedom of Information request to the Council [link] we can now see the council’s response in which they admit the full cost of this compensation to Dr Bowrick was £8,000.

    Nottingham City Council’s FoI response

    The Tribunal’s comments following the hearing included: “Quite frankly the Tribunal is dismayed at the way the Request has been handled and the conduct of the Council since the commencement of this appeal. The Council appears to have misled Dr Bowbrick and then the Information Commissioner during his investigation.”

    After the case was settled the Information Commissioner conducted an investigation at Nottingham City Council and issued a Practice Recommendation against the authority.


    It would appear there is still some work to do at Nottingham as the answer to my question was late and as far as I can see failed to answer the second part of how the costs were broken down.