Info Commissioner Elizabeth Denham tells @CommonsPACAC there is a "need for urgent reform in legislation as well as more powers and resources for our office"
@CommonsPACAC Denham, in her oral evidence to @CommonsPACAC: FOI working well at local level, but for more politically complex/sensitive requests timeliness and openness have deteriorated; and oversight of FOI act is not fit for purpose
@CommonsPACAC Denham: We don't have evidence on whether clearing house causes delays and discrimination against journalists; we wanted to do audit but cabinet office declined. This has increased suspicion.
@CommonsPACAC Denham: I was surprised when I came here from Canada that there was no compulsory audit power for the commissioner.
@CommonsPACAC Denham: I'm "frustrated and disappointed" that Cabinet Office turned down our offer of auditing Clearing House. The Clearing House operations are "opaque". We haven't had a systematic review of it. People will continue to be suspicious until an independent agency can have a look.
@CommonsPACAC More from Info Commissioner Elizabeth Denham's evidence to @commonspacac: She says there was more transparency previously about operation of clearing house until statistics stopped being published in 2011
@CommonsPACAC John McDonnell puts to Denham my suggestion that ICO shld use enforcement notice to crack down on Cabinet Office. She replies: If we are not able to go in to do audit, how could we use an enforcement notice? She also says their resources have been cut by 40%
@CommonsPACAC Andrew White, head of FOI casework at ICO, stresses their lack of resources as reason for not issuing more enforcement notices to public authorities on FOI
@CommonsPACAC Info Commissioner Elizabeth Denham: Our relationship with cabinet office has improved in past 12 months. Their new FOI team has a recovery plan in place and they are starting to do better. There is a less frosty relationship with my office.
@CommonsPACAC Denham: until 12 months ago my staff had a harder time engaging with cabinet office officials on FOI casework. It was very difficult for me to get meetings with CO ministers. I've had many meetings with ministers in other depts.
@CommonsPACAC Denham: Cabinet office was "dismissive" of my recommendations in my report on extending FOI in 2018
@CommonsPACAC Denham calls for statutory time limits on internal reviews for FOI requests - they "would assist everybody". There are significant issues about timeliness. Info delayed is info denied. It means the current law is "not fit for purpose".
@CommonsPACAC ICO head of casework Andrew White tells @CommonsPACAC: FOI applicants should draw our attention early to delays [on internal reviews], within four or five weeks, not six months
@CommonsPACAC Denham: it would be useful to have ministers and senior officials "walk the talk" about freedom of information
@CommonsPACAC Denham: ICO had £5.5 million in 2010 for FOI work, we now have £3.75m, with a rapidly rising caseload. Our office is at "a tipping point". I have submitted to DCMS for small increase in our budget, don't know result of that yet
@CommonsPACAC Outgoing Info Comm'r Elizabeth Denham to @CommonsPACAC: There are some quick fixes on FOI law (compulsory audit powers, time limits for internal reviews, new public bodies subject to FOI), but also there needs to be root and branch review to see if FOI law is fit for purpose
@CommonsPACAC Denham: I'll be telling my successor that the system can't stretch any more and there are urgent issues here
@CommonsPACAC Denham is against the Info Comm'r role being split into FOI and DP separately. She says it's helpful to have FOI and data protection considerations in the same body, you have to adjudicate freedom of expression and privacy. It would also duplicate admin costs.
@CommonsPACAC Denham says the BBC has also refused the ICO doing an FOI audit - only other example apart from the Cabinet Office. She can't remember the reasons but will write to the committee.
@CommonsPACAC Denham: It's important that ministers & top officials walk the talk on FOI, eg create permanent records, staff the FOI team properly with proper resources etc. They should espouse the values of disclosure of information. I've seen ministers who don't exhibit those values.
@CommonsPACAC Outgoing Info Comm'r Elizabeth Denham: First issue my successor needs to tackle is resourcing of our office. The elastic band is stretched too far. Now we are contributing to some of the misery that applicants are feeling right now.
@CommonsPACAC And that is the end of the @CommonsPACAC oral evidence session with the ICO

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More from @rosenbaum6

24 Nov
Important Upper Tribunal decision relating to common practice of public authorities to withhold exact numbers where they are under 5 - Tribunal rules that NHSBSA was *wrong* to do this & shld release exact figs (via @11kbw):…
Public bodies replying to FOI requests say they do this to protect personal data. The Tribunal rules the legal issue is a binary test of whether an individual is identifiable from the info, and not to do with "identification risk". In this case NHSBSA wrongly withheld exact figs.
The issue cannot be decided "by reference to a numerical number relating to incidents in the data." ... "The legislation provides that actual identification is necessary in order for data to be personal data."
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