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Freedom of Information: Essential Web Resources

Date added: 3 March 2005

By This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Records Management Consultant, Tribal Technology

This Web page has been archived. Its content will not be updated.

Introduction

The January 2005 deadline for full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act looms ever closer. The recent flurry of activity on the Records-Management-UK mailing list regarding the Act demonstrates the need for guidance in preparing for dealing with future requests for information, and the maintenance of publication schemes. This article aims to provide a pointer to resources that can aid implementation of the Act.

It is important to note that the Act applies only to England and Wales (including public authorities from those countries who are located in Scotland). Scotland has its own Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act. Unless otherwise stated, this guide refers to the England and Wales Act. Further information about the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act can be found at the Scottish Executive's Web site.

Legislation and government guidance

The most important resource is naturally the Act itself, which is available from HMSOnline. However, it is published in over thirty separate HTML pages. More user-friendly one-page versions are available from the Campaign for Freedom of Information's Web site, in either Acrobat or Rich Text Format.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) is responsible for legislation related to Freedom of Information and Data Protection. Links to secondary legislation under the Act is available from the DCA. The Act is supported by two Codes of Practices, which the DCA is required to issue under the Act. The first of these is the "Code Of Practice on the discharge of public authorities functions under Part I of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 - dealing with requests for information". This Code of Practice sets out the practices that public authorities should follow when dealing with requests for information. Although the Act's general right of access provisions do not come into force until January 2005, this Code enables public authorities to prepare for future requests for information. The second Code is the "Code of Practice on the management of records". It aims to give guidance on good practice in records management to public authorities, particularly in the context of the Freedom of Information Act.

The DCA also provides a wide range of guidance and information regarding the Act, including background information, reports on implementation of the Act and "Central Government and Non-Departmental Public Body Guidance" on publication schemes. The site also contains agendas, papers and minutes relating to the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Group on implementation of the Act.

The Information Commissioner, an independent supervisory authority, is responsible for the enforcement of the Act. The Information Commissioner's Web site contains a wealth of information and guidance for implementation of the Act. Unless otherwise stated, all resources referred to can be accessed from the FOI section of the site. The resources available from this site include:

  • general information (including frequently asked questions and an overview of the Act)
  • a summary of responses to and information concerning a public consultation exercise regarding publication schemes
  • model publication schemes for a wide range of organisations, including health authorities, parish and town and community councils, fire authorities, drainage boards, and passenger transport authorities
  • a forum for discussing the Act (although at the time of writing this was temporarily unavailable)

There is also a document detailing a number of areas in which organisations can begin to prepare for dealing with requests for information. This document briefly discusses topics such as allocation of responsibilities, staff awareness, interfaces between authorities and applicants, and information exempt from the Act. The document also emphasises the importance of proper records management.

Unsurprisingly, the most fully developed section of the site deals with the development and submission of publication schemes. This includes a twenty-page "Guidance and Methodology" document, a practical guide to information classes, information specific to educational institutions and health sector bodies, and feedback and observations regarding the local authority pilot schemes. The site also includes a list of approved publication schemes and the Information Commissioner's own publication scheme.

The consultation Web site concerning the government's White Paper on Freedom of Information is still available online. The site was set up to promote public discussion of the White Paper and to enable the public to question and make suggestions to the minister responsible for the White Paper (the Cabinet Minister for Public Service). The White Paper was published in December 1997, and the consultation exercise ran from publication of the paper to March 1998. The site contains the full text of the White Paper, parliamentary debates and written answers, submissions received by the Government regarding the consultation, and questions and answers from the Cabinet Minister for Public Service.

Non-government guidance and information

There are numerous sources of guidance available from a wide range of organisations. TFPL provide an action plan for the implementation of the Act, focusing on the establishment of a strategic records management programme in order to implement the appropriate processes, culture and technology. The Public Partners Web site discusses how the Act affects various stakeholders (public bodies, suppliers to the public sector, the public, and employees within the public sector). The site also includes a brief discussion of the key issues.

The Constitution Unit at the University College London is an independent research body, whose main concern is constitutional change. The Freedom of Information and Data Protection section of their Web site includes a history of Freedom of Information in the UK. The Constitution Unit publishes an excellent quarterly FOI newsletter, which can be downloaded from their Web site in PDF format.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) provide a paper entitled "Thinking About the Freedom of Information Act". The article emphasises that the Act not only impacts upon public authorities, but also those private organisations who are "partners" of the public sector. Although now a little dated, an article from Free Pint provides an excellent introduction to Freedom of Information, including the development and introduction of the Act, related legislation (including the Official Secrets Act 1989 and the Human Rights Act 1998), and Freedom of Information throughout the world. It also provides a wealth of links to FOI resources.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information is a non-profit organisation that campaigns for freedom of information within the Government. The Campaign's site contains a wealth of resources, of which the most useful is a publications list, the majority of which are available online. The publications involve topics such as the Open Government Code of Practice, the Official Secrets Act, public records, and data protection.

The Web site of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) offers advice and guidance on implementation of the Act within Higher and Further Education institutions. Two particularly useful resources produced by JISC are a senior management briefing paper entitled "Freedom of Information Act 2000" and an issues briefing paper entitled "Freedom of Information Act 2000: implementation & practice". Another useful section details the model publication scheme pilot projects. The model publication scheme is being developed for use within Higher and Further Education institutions, and has been piloted in six institutions. The site contains background information about the project, and links to the publication schemes of the institutions involved in the project. There is also a link to the draft model publication scheme itself.

Portals and news sources

Web pages of FOI related links provided by Cranfield University and Paul Pedley function as gateways to a wide range of information and guidance. The portal maintained by Cranfield University focuses on the higher education sector, and in particular resources provided by JISC. It also provides links to government publications, interest groups, and examples of published publication schemes by various academic and central government institutions. The portal provided by Paul Pedley focuses on resources related to FOI legislation. It also provides links to central government publication schemes, and resources regarding the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Guardian Unlimited (the online version of the Guardian newspaper) provide a "special report" on Freedom of Information. It provides links to a range of news stories and articles within its own site. Many of these deal with broader issues such as privacy. The FOI section of the Managing Information News Page (published by Aslib) also provides news stories relating to FOI, but the stories tend to focus on library and broader information issues rather than records management. Nevertheless, both sites provide useful background reading to the issues regarding FOI, and place the legalisation within a broader context

The Act Now Web site provides links to FOI news stories and resources. The site also contains internally produced articles on FOI, and allows subscription to a newsletter produced by Act Now. Although the site also contains resources concerning Data Protection and other related information law issues, all resources are classified according to topic, which facilitates easy identification of FOI related resources.

Examples of FOI planning and implementation

The NHS Freedom of Information Web site is an excellent demonstration of the dissemination of information regarding the planning and implementation of the Act. The project management section of the site includes a document library, which includes model publication schemes, examples of completed publication schemes, information regarding records management and information audits, and agendas and minutes. The site also includes implementation programmes for all organisations within the NHS.

There are numerous publication schemes available on the Internet, from various types of public organisations. The following table provides links to exemplary publication schemes.

Type of organisationOrganisation name
Central government The Houses of Parliament
Local government Manchester City Council
Health authorities Department of Health
Educational institutions Education Leeds
Other organisations Investors in People

Conclusion

As we move closer to the January 2005 deadline for full implementation of the Act, the knowledge and experience of organisations will naturally increase. As always, this experience can be shared with fellow records management professionals via forums such as this Web site and the Records-Management-UK mailing list.

Jamie Burton can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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