Monthly Archives: March 2012

FOI Can Make You Money!

A guest post from Ibrahim Hasan

Many public authorities have expressed concerns about the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) being “abused” by the private sector. They have cited examples of information requests where they are effectively asked to do unpaid research or to supply facts, figures and statistics, which are then repackaged and sold on for profit with little return for the authorities. Many have taken the opportunity to present evidence to the Justice Select Committee  about the cost of dealing with FOI requests. Although some of the figures cited are somewhat dubious, there seems to be groundswell of opinion that the price of openness and transparency is too high. But how many of the same public authorities have considered the forthcoming changes to the FOI regime which may well assist in defraying some of the costs?

The Protection of Freedoms Bill will provide an opportunity for public authorities to raise much-needed revenue from the licensing of some information released pursuant to FOI requests. The Bill is currently proceeding through the final stage in Parliament, strangely termed “Ping Pong”.

Clause 102 of the Bill will amend FOI to require all public authorities when releasing datasets (raw unprocessed data) pursuant to an FOI request, to do so in a re usable electronic format. Where such datasets contain copyright work (owned by the authority), they must make that copyright work available for re use in accordance with the terms of a specified license. Finally once datasets are disclosed under FOI, they must also be published together with any updated versions. (For a full discussion of the proposals see my article here)

As far as disclosures of normal datasets go (i.e. those not containing copyright work) the usual FOI charging provisions will apply as set out in Section 12 and the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004. This means that public authorities will only be able to charge photocopying, postage and any disbursements.

So what’s new (I hear you ask)? The Bill is going to create an additional burden without additional money! This is true in relation to the mere disclosure of datasets. However when it comes to allowing a requestor to re use a released datasets containing copyright work (owned by the authority) there is an opportunity to charge more.

A new Section 11A(4) will be added to FOI by the Bill. This states that nothing prevents a public authority “from exercising any power that
it has by or under an enactment other than this Act to charge a fee in connection with making the relevant copyright work available for re use.” This means that if there are any other regulations or statute which allow a public authority to charge for re use of copyright material contained in a dataset, then FOI cannot be used by the requestor to obtain free permission to re use the same. Note though that this only covers re use of the material not disclosure of it. Access to the dataset is still covered by FOI and the Fees Regulations (discussed above).

A new Section 11B of FOI also allows for regulations to be made to make provision about the charging of fees by public authorities in connection with making copyright material in datasets available for re use. Section 11B(2) states that these regulations may:

(a) prescribe cases in which fees may, or may not, be charged,

(b)  prescribe the amount of any fee payable or provide for any such amount to be determined in such manner as may be prescribed,

(c)  prescribe, or otherwise provide for, times at which fees, or parts 
of fees, are payable,

(d)  require the provision of information about the manner in which amounts of fees are determined, 10

(e)  make different provision for different purposes.

Section 11B(3) also allows for the possibility of public authorities making a profit from charging for re use of datasets which include copyright material:

(3)  Regulations under this section may, in prescribing the amount of any
fee payable or providing for any such amount to be determined in such manner as may be prescribed, provide for a reasonable return on investment. (my emphasis)

These new provisions are a significant departure from the normal FOI charging principles as discussed above.  They were added as amendments to the Bill during its passage through Parliament in what seems to be an attempt to lighten the burden on public authorities who receive FOI requests from businesses who may want to re use copyright material.

The Bill seems to duplicate the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005, which came into force on 1st July 2005. The aim of these Regulations is to encourage the re use of public sector information by removing obstacles that stand in the way of re use. It requires those bodies covered by it to consider requests for re use fairly and to impose fair and transparent conditions on re use. The Regulations are rarely invoked by businesses seeking information from public authorities.

The main problems with the Regulations are they do not impose an obligation to allow re use, do not have a binding enforcement mechanism and do not apply to some organisations e.g. universities and cultural establishments. The amended FOI provisions relating to datasets, to be introduced by the Bill, will apply to all public authorities, will be obligatory and will be enforced by the Information Commissioner.  Therefore there is a much greater chance that they will be used to their full effect by both public authorities and the private sector.

Much of the detail will be contained in a new Section 45 Code of Practice. Much depends on how the Government defines “reasonable return of investment” i.e. how much profit can be made. Certainly the potential is there for canny public authorities to raise some much needed revenue from the licensing of datasets. Work needs to start now on identifying relevant datasets and raising awareness amongst stakeholder departments that “FOI can make you money!”


Ibrahim Hasan is a solicitor and director of Act Now Training ( Follow him on Twitter!/ActNowTraining


Fourth session of the Justice Committee announced

The Justice Committee has announced details of the its fourth evidence session in its post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act. Witnesses are

At 10.30am

  • Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield; and
  • Lord O’Donnell of Clapham

At 11.15am

  • Gordon Wanless, NHS Business Service Authority;
  • Sue Slipman, Foundation Trust Network;
  • Wyn Taylor, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital; and
  • Julian Brookes,  NHS South of England

On his blog FOIMan says “This promises to be quite a blockbuster…My prediction (for which I hardly need a crystal ball) is that FOI will receive a good going over next Tuesday”.

We’ll aim to be live-tweeting the session, as we have with all the previous ones. Follow us on twitter @saveFOI to see what happens.

Meanwhile, the uncorrected transcript of evidence from the third hearing of the Committee has been uploaded at

What They Knew

This extraordinary post by saveFOI cofounder FOIMonkey (@FOIMonkey) first appeared on the superb confirmordeny blog. It is reproduced here with permission.

Here are 366 Interesting things that we know because of FOI requests made using– one for every day of the leap year. This list focuses mainly on information released during the last six months. Our right to access information is about to come under attack from those who want to use the process of post-legislative scrutiny to weaken the Freedom of Information Act and we need to do all we can to defend it. As this shows, FOI works. Let’s keep it that way.

1) The name of every street in the country, from ‘B’ STATION ROAD to Zurich Gardens:

2) Who the members of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) are:

3) A contract between Courtserve and the Ministry of Justice prevents courts from publishing their own lists online:

4) The Electoral Commission’s advice to councils on inspecting General Election expenses Electoral Commission’s frustrates inquiries by journalists’ by recommending that they are not allowed to take notes:

5) In 2009/10 the NHS spent £29 million pounds on chaplains:

6) In 2008/09 HMRC missed its target for handling benefit claims within 9 working days:

7) Exactly what the ICO said to TalkTalk when it warned them over tracking the browsing history of users who installed its anti-malware software.

8 ) The Government wasted millions of pounds setting up a sub-optimal cycle journey planner:

9) In 2010 some Child Benefit Clements were being advised that it would take up to 26 weeks to process their claims due to high volumes of complaints being received:

10) What the BBC thought the risks were of its move to Media City in Salford:

11) Waltham Forest Council spent £7,000 on Olympic tickets:

12) The location of every Post Box in the country, with the collection times:

13) A list of all complaints that have been received by the electoral commission and the case outcomes. This showed for the first time that the Electoral Commission only took no action in 55% of cases where they had ruled that electoral law had been broken:

14) The Rules of the Boat Race:

15) How bus subsidy cuts are going to impact services across the country:

16) The real state of allotment provision and waiting lists across the UK:

17) What aspiring London cab drivers have to learn after TFL release a copy of the knowledge:

18) What the Chinese call senior Government officials:

19) GCHQ were concerned enough about interference from PLT home networking devices that they wrote to Ofcom about it:

20) Nottingham City Council raised thousands of pounds by adding google AdWords to their website:

21) The ins and outs of the Cross Thames Cable Car plan:

22) How east coast trains staff are trained before they can serve the public:

23) A list of all the pseudonyms used by Number 10 staff to write to members of the public:

24) How the Electoral Commission spent thousands of pounds on Government credit cards, including on models, chocolates, football shirts and “fruity Friday”

25) Lambeth Council spent £1072 producing a YouTube video on Swishing:

26) Southampton Council put trips to the London Dungeon on its credit cards:

27) How the ticketing settlement agreement governs how fare revenue is set and distributed between Train operating companies – even the government found that one useful:

28) What type of vehicles are licensed to operate as taxis in London:

29) How Leeds City council handled the consultation on Library Cuts after they released 77 pages of emails about it:

30) Where every parking ticket was issued in Derbyshire during the last 2.5 years:

31) The number of Sussex Police officers who were disciplined for improper use of the force Internet/data in 2009/10:

32) How the Foreign Office handles social media criticism, following the release of internal correspondence relating to former ambassador Frances Guy’s controversial blog about Sheikh Fadlallah that

33) What letters were sent by MPs to the Equality and Human Rights Commission:

34) What meeting minutes and reports can tell us about a 1999 fire at Royal Ordnance Speciality Metals, close to a depleted uranium store:

35) The hospitality register from Hillingdon Borough Council includes Wine, Lunches, event tickets and a free Ipod touch:

36) How many under 18′s were admitted for Alcohol poisoning and drug abuse at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in 2011:

37) What an MOD report concluded on the alleged trafficking of human organs in Kosovo:

38) Kent County Council paid for trips to the Anomabu Beach Resort, Ghana, Canada, Sweden and Norway… plus one to Iceland to get their money back:


39) What the Cabinet Office was saying about the Open Source Advisory Panel:

40) TFL will spend £89.83 million this financial year funding 1,610 Metropolitan Police officer posts an what those posts are.

41) What assets are held by the Crown Estate

42) Of 11,988 people vetted by Greater Manchester Police before the Labour Party Autumn Conference 2010, 24 were rejected:

43) What undertakings were given by the Government to the IOC on security at the Olympic Games.

44) How many private police forces there are in the UK.

45) Brent Council spent money on flights with British Midland, Ryanair, EasyJet, Aer Lingus, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic and a stay at the Morgans Harbour Hotel in Jamaica:

46) How much the recent military action in Libya cost as well as what munitions were used by British forces:

47) What health and safety manuals aregiven to prison officers:

48) Birmingham City Council spent over £50,000 in 2009 on bottled water.

49) How much the court Post Office costs the tax payer

50) The five most expensive wines currently in stock in the Government Hospitality cellar

51) How safe TFL thinks Blackfriars Bridge is for London cyclists

52) What the forms look like that the police will send to you if they think there is a credible threat to your life:

53) How many people entered the UK on transfer agreements to work for less than minimum wage

54) The Metropolitan Police made £11,450 from selling CCTV footage to media companies in 2010/11:

55) What the ICO discovered when it carrie out a Data Protection Audit into NHS24:

56) Sussex Coast College were attempting charge a £75 flat fee for answering FOI requests:

57) Racist incidents occurred in 48% of schools in Essex 09/10 with Teachers & Governors among the perpetrators

58) How many UK properties that have an entry on the land register in respect of a liability to repair the chancel.

59) The Police uncovered and subsequently closed down 16 “drug factories” in Swindon during 2009.


60) Shop keepers who want to sell Oyster Cards have to pass a proficiency test and what training they are given:

61) What guidance is given by HMCTS to County Court Bailiffs, Civilian Enforcement Officers and Tipstaff:

62) The Cost of Council Tax enforcement in Brighton, and how many are of summonsed for non payment:


63) Why the Metropolitan Police choose the codenames Weeting and Elevendon for their Phone hacking investigation:

64) The location and opening hours of every public toilet in Coventry:

65) What our ambassadors to France and China put in their Valedictory dispatches:


66) The cost of trips taken by the Department of Transport’s departmental security officer including to a South African holiday resort:

67) How many times unauthorised PNC checks were made or other police data was wrongly disclosed by officers of Greater Manchester Police:

68) Detailed statistics on the level of knife crime in London:

69) How many people have been arrested by Civil Nuclear Constabulary:

70) The criteria that TfL use when reporting delays:


71) How much Oil is kept in reserve by the Government:

72) Derby City Council officials took a trip to Berlin to lobby Bombardier to save UK jobs:

73) There are 5,300 non-doms in the United Kingdom;

74) How Centro decide which buses stop where. They allow a maximum of 12 per hour per stop:

75) Croydon Council spent £7,186,393.82 on consultants in 2010/11:

76) What was said durig some GMC fitness to practice hearings:

77) Hate Crime reporting and conviction statistics from West Midlands police:

78) What the RAF thought when 7 unauthorised civilian aircraft arrived unannounced at an RAF base:

79) 86% of DPA cases being handled by the ICO in July 2011 were self-reported breaches of the act:

80) The location and incident type of all fire brigade call outs in Lichfield from 2008 – 2011:

81) EU procurement law means that the UK Government can’t go 100% fairtrade:

82) A list of all primary schools with more than 400 pupils on their roll:

83) London buses accept £5 Coins after The Big Red Book of guidance for all London drivers was released by TfL:

84) Details of proposed changes to the level of air support available to Cambridgeshire Police:

85) Usage data for each and every stop on the Croydon Tramlink

86) The Child Support Agency spend £68,804 on taxi fares to transport staff to and from work

87) How changes to the the delay-repay passenger compensation scheme were decided:

88) Traffic cones cost £11 each and the Highways Agency has 3,900 of them:

89) Chris Huhne MP was breaching the Data Protection Act:

90) Greater Manchester Police spent £379,015 on payments to informants in the 2009/10 financial year:

91) What exactly is on the national register of cranes:

92) How Kent police policed polling stations at the last general election:

93) Andy Coulson was vetted by FCO services prior to working at Number 10:

94) What NHS Direct staff really though of their empoyer:

95) What wine stocks are held by Liverpool University:

96) Information regarding the resignation of Assistant Commissioner John Yates:

97) The Governments  ePetition website cost £80,700 to build and will cost £32,000 a year to run

98) How much it cost the taxpayer to fund language classes taken by MPs, and who took which class:

99) Westminster is the most expensive London borough to police:


100) What the operations handbook for the Cambridge guided bus way tells drivers do in an emergency:

101) Contraband tobacco products seized by  UKBA are used as fuel at a Power Station in Slough:

102) TFL refunded passengers £1,062,865.26  in 12 months to September 2011 due to faulty Oyster card readers:

103) Which postcodes qualify for industrial development assistance from the Government:

104) Oil pollution emergency plans for various drill sites:

105) The basic wage of a government driver is £29,532.30:

106) The Welsh Assembley Government spent £3387 in 4 months flying members between North and South Wales:

107) The second most common reason for delays to patient transfers at Wirral PCT was “public funding”.

108) How reliable the TfL cycle hire scheme is:

109) How many TASER complaints were received by the IPCC

110) How many Hampshire Police Officers disobeyed orders

111) Google wrote to the DCMS to express concern about the way the Government has implemented EU cookie law, warning that UK risks throwing away its competitive advantage if the Government doesn’t reconsider changes.

112) Bandwidth diagnostic data for BBC I-player, broken down by ISP:

113) University of Leeds fears a reduction in Postgraduate numbers from 2015 due to increased debt caused by higher fees:

114) Over 3 years, there were 1194 collisions involving Metropolitan Police Vehicles where injuries occurred, and 3 which resulted in fatalities:

115) Which projects received funding as part of the Arab partnership program:

116) The post-riots sentencing Guidelines from the MOJ:

117)  BBC have a contract with Berghaus for exclusive production of its protective clothing worn onscreen:

118) What happened when the 999 system failed in North Wales:

119) Who the 215 Peers are who had their expenses claims queried in 08/09

120) Northamptonshire County council have an office in Brussels:

121) What the Royal Navy wrote about the sinking of a British aircraft carrier during WWII:

122) Internal guidance on back to work/In work credits from the DWP

123) A tax break for the royals and the Queens plan to let Prince William start to take over her engagements:

124) The Metropolitan Police Diversity guide:

125) Details of 24 Hour Off licenses in London:

126) Equal opportunities monitoring data on all social workers by post town:

127) Treasury Solicitor’s Department guidance on handling vexatious litigants

128) 5 years worth of clinical/nonclinical incidents, complaints and litigation threats for 1 NHS trust:

129) Islington has byelaws in place regulating how loud a Gramophone can be played in a shop/public place.

130) Data on prescription levels for certain drugs

131) What is in the GLA’s Members’ Handbook:

132) Communications between DFID and the office of the Quartet representative.

133) Details about 154 tribunal cases involving Ikea

134) What type of FOI requests are treated as high risk by the metropolitan police: including all requests from pesky journalists:

135) What is in the ACPO public order training manual:

136) Correspondence  between the FCO and the Governor of St Helena:

137) A copy of the DLR working timetable:

138) The number of pupils permanently excluded from schools in East Sussex has more than doubled in 5 years

139) How much is spent on chartering flights to deport people from the UK

140) Merseyside Police broke their spy drone during training but didn’t replace it because of the cuts:

141) What training notes are given to ticket inspectors

142) The BBC paid £10,131,423 in car allowances to its staff over the last 3 financial years

143) At 31 August 2011, £608,910,827 of court fines were still outstanding:

144) User statistics for the new(ish) Police National Database:

145) IPS received 81 complaints in 2010/11 about passports & supporting docs being sent to the wrong address

146) Retained papers on the Kennedy Assassination were released to the national archives followig this request.

147) Serving Hampshire Police officers have convictions for ABH, Battery, fraud, Theft, poss. of an offensive weapon & more:

148) The coordinates and a map of exactly where the army fired depleted uranium ammunition around Basra during the Iraq war

149) Which ICO FOI decision notices that were appeaed to the information tribunal

150) 88,094 settlement applications were refused by UKBA over the past 11 years:

151) 653 Service personnel have been issued with epinephrine auto-injectors in case of anaphylactic shock

152) The Charity Commission receives a lot of dubious complaints about the RSPCA

153) What guidance was issued by the National Police Improvement Agency on the processing of digital images for evidential purposes

154) Statistics about Community Sentences broken down by force area:

155) How many lawyers are employed by each government department

156) How many deaths have occured at York hospital since 2001, broken down by cause of death

157) What the Ofcom report “Site Blocking” to reduce online copyright infringement has to say:

158) How many individuals are still entitled to drive despite having 12+ pts on their license, broken down by county & post town:

159) 713 attempts to deport people from the UK in 2011 were unsuccessful due to ‘disruptive behavior’:

160) What caused delays to Chemotherapy treatment at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust:

161) Of 7916 immigration appeals lodged with UKBA in June/August 2011, only 3% were successful:

162) How NHS trust train mental health staff on how to deal with aggressive patients:

163) What a sample control order looks like and details of some of the individuals subject to control orders:

164) 13% of primary school teachers in Essex are male and 38 schools have no male teachers at all:

165) If required Orange will provide emergency services details 999 calling phone/owner in 30 mins. Other operators take days:

166) Details of every Parking ticket issued in Lambeth since 2009:

167) A list of 46 MPs who were breaking the Data Protection Act in 2011

168) The average call waiting times for the Student Awards Agency for Scotland:

169) What UKBA had to say about the Zambrano judgement:

170) A report from Lothian and borders showed that the “oil spill” that Climate camp were blamed for wasn’t even oil

171) How many children taken into care by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust:

172) Drink and drug driving arrest figures from Sussex Police

173) How many people people recalled to prison in Norfolk and Suffolk over the past 3 years:

174) The names of all UK employers who conduct CRB checks on their staff:

175) Bristol University spent £5000 on a Gorilla:

176) A MHRA inspection report identified deficiencies at Guys St Thomas NHS Trust Pharmacy manufacturing Unit

177) The removal of the M4 bus lane decreased peak journey times between J1 and J4 by more than 10 seconds:

178) The final report arising from the CReSt research study commissioned by QCDA evaluating the 11-19 reform programme

179) The terms of the DCMS funding agreement with the Football Foundation:

180) The Department of Health has contracts with Capita totaling £92,203,515:

181) Nottinghamshire Police drink drive statistics for 2008-2011

182) The BBC shows have got 254 iPads and 1151 iPhones

183) By November 2011, 14 people had been prosecuted for non-completion of a census return

184) In September 2011 PSNI seized £510,000 in cash from a visitor to Maghaberry Prison

185) Police Handcuffs cost £16.95 and kitting out a Male PC costs £8.76 more than kitting out a female PC:

186) The terms of reference of Operation Weeting:

187) Less than a third of those accredited to attend the Lib Dem autumn conference were grass roots party members:

188) How much it cost Plymouth Council to host the America’s Cup

189) Between January 2009 & 30 September 2011 Prison Officers at HMP Preston seized 11 Cannabis plants:

190) The ICO risk register says there is a high risk of FOI casework suffering due to budget cuts

191) The location of CCTV Cameras in Coventry:

192) What animals are being kept in Zoos in Pembrokeshire:

193) The location of defective & non-standard construction properties in Leeds:

194) Ten primary schools in West Sussex do not employ any male teachers:

195) The amount spent by Staffordshire Police on defending employment tribunal claims

196) Since the start of the scheme there have been 81 accidents involving Barclay’s Cycle Hire customers (Nov 2011)

197) The number of redundancy notices  issued in Nov 2011 to RAF service personnel:

198) Between 2007 and 2010 Sussex Police arrested 46 people under the Animal Welfare Act 2006

199) Unemployment statistics for Leicester, broken down by ward

200) What conditions the Bank of England imposed on a toy company who wanted to print money:

201) The results of the latest well being survey of headteachers on the Isle of Wight:

202) The IPCC received 24 complaints about policing during the recent riots:

203) Copies of charity Commission inquiry reports published prior to 2005:

204) Scottish Prison Service information on prison officers’ second jobs:

205) Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal  statistics about domestic violence related prosecutions in Scotland:

206) Since 2008 Surrey police have spent £651,116 on obtaining copies of mobile phone records

207) The Gambling Commission have released the record of the hearing where Health lottery was granted an operating licence:

208) How many student at Southampton Solent University were caught cheating during the last 5 years:

209) Last year West Lothian Council spent £500,000 on snow clearing/gritting at local schools, over 8x the normal spend:

210) Data on inpatient an outpatient suicides at South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust:

211) IPCC releases details of dispensations requested/granted to police forces allowing them not to investigate complaints:

212) Newcastle University have collected £170,375 in library fines over the last two years:

213) From 1 October 2009 to 30 Sep 2011, 10 civilian MOD employees received prison sentences, of which 6 were fired:

214) Details of attacks on firefighters in Dumfries and Galloway during 2011

215) The minutes/agendas of meetings of the Independent advisory group on sexual health and HIV:

216) South Wales Police release info on the number of people stopped for driving without a valid license

217) Details of the number of homes demolished by Leeds City Council as well as the costs of acquisition/demolition:

218) Horley Town Council plans to introduce its own currency

219) Average crown court waiting times by case type, gender and ethnicity from the MOJ

220) Longfield Acadamy spends circa £20K a year on marketing and PR

221) 25 people were refused accreditation to attend the 2011 labour party conference following police checks:

222) 23,019 people are on the waiting list for social housing in Camden and on average they’ll wait 4 years to be housed

223) Nottingham City Council appear to have spent £740 on changing the tram signs to include the word “only”:

224) Since March 2011 7550 drivers have been issued with PCNs after being caught just one bus lane camera in Hounslow:

225) During the last 3 years, Southend Borough Council has spent £1,728,020.94 on maintaining its CCTV system:

226) Details of the proposed changes to the award criteria for medals granted to cadet force volunteers

227) South Wales Fire Service have attended 71 cat/kitten rescue incidents in 2011

228) Between Jan and Sep 2011 Westminster City Council received 401 complaints about its civil enforcement officers:

229) Between March and October 2011 there were 80 stabbings in Camden and 240 other crimes involving knives:

230) East London NHS Trust : there have been 190 suspected suicides amongst patients during in the last 10 years:

231) The terms of Reference and some other details about operations Elvenden and Tuleta

232) The location of active road studs that have the potential to cause problems for epileptics:

233) The Civil Service Code:

234) London Councils estimates that the switch to the 5 year freedom pass will save £1.3 Million

235) Firefighters from Central Scotland Fire & Rescue Service were shot at when reponding to a call out:

236) Companies House were involved in a dispute between the college of social work and the college of social workers:

237) In 2011, Bradford City spent £750 on elves

238) Met Police no longer know why people were “contained” in Trafalgar square on 26 March this year:

239) Greater Manchester Police release details of the numbers of officers disciplined for racist or homophobic misconduct:

240) The House of Commons have released the style guidelines for preparing Select Committee reports:

241) How many company directors have been prosecuted under the Health and Safety at work act during the last decade:

242) The locations of 244 council controlled CCTV cameras in Leeds:

243) Liverpool City Council have spent £942K on Christmas lights during the past 5 years:

244) What the HSE had to say to BP about the safety of its offshore drilling platforms:

245) How many times pedestrians have been hit by buses in Camden since 2009:

246) What injuries were sustained by London’s firefighters since 01/01/2008:

247) Serco’s Boris Bike “critical improvement plan” revealed catalogue of problems:

248) How many GLA meetings were made inquorate in 2011 by assembly members walking out

249) The radiation levels on Christmas Island following UK nuclear tests:

250) What responses were received by TFL in response to the recent Private Hire consultation

251) The UKTI techcity website cost £53,000 to build

252) ICO release correspondence from Barnet Council about their DPA complaint against blogger @_MrMustard:

253) Copies of certificates of authorisation for 57 constituencies at the 2010 general election:

254) Details of all thefts on the railway during 2011. From cheese & beer to cable & a ticket machine:

255) Copies of documentation relating to the disclaimer of peerages

256) Since April 2009, 40,102 books have disappeared from Kent libraries

257) On the day that HS2 gets the go-ahead the DfT have revealed that the public consultation has cost £3.6 Million so far

258) The University of Manchester is spending over £1/4m on iPads for Medical students:

259) The make and model of all mobile phones owed by Bolton Council, and what they spent on calls:

260) What methodology was used by the treasury to estimate the cost of the recent Public Sector strikes

261) The location of every litter bin in Kensington and Chelsea. There are now a 1/3 less bins than in 2005:

262) Over 300 serving Met officers have criminal convictions.

263) What the official secrets act form signed by new MOD employees looks like:

264) What items were stolen from churches in Strathclyde over the last 12 months:

265) A copy of the Conservative Party constitution, usual price £10

266) Highland Council’s explaination as to how & why they treat FOI requests made by journalists differently to those made by the public:

267) During the past 5 years over half of all fires in North Wales were smoking related

268) How many former MOD employees have gone on to work for BAE systems :

269) Royal Mail ignore “no leaflets” signs on letter boxes; but have official opt-out system:

270) What blue plaques have been placed on buildings in Manchester

271) There have been 16 data protection breaches at the Student Loans Company over the last five years:

272) A Council accepted gift of chocolate, wine & flowers from planning applicant, but refuses to identify the donor:

273) 0.47% of post sent via Royal Mail has had the incorrect postage put on in

274) The highest paid employee of Brighton & Hove City Council earns £170,000 while the lowest paid earns £9,800:

275) Even the ICO suffered from security breaches and data losses:

276) What byelaws are currently in force in Bradford:

277) Slides and speakers notes for ICO presentations made since October 2009

278) Met. police received & used 1 photo taken by the public to help identify rioters. 5111 photos were released in total

279) Since 2007, 19 officers have worked for @cambscops whilst having criminal convictions, including for ABH, theft & arson

280) The number of engineers & the maintenance cost involved in keeping the Red Arrows in the air

281)How ICO has attempted to comply with the cookie rules that they are tasked with enforcing:

282) Just 5 people wrote to West Yorks. PTE to complain about fare rises:

283) The ticketing information guides provided to TFL Ticket Inspectors:

284) Heavily redacted FCO documents about Vojislav Seselj who is currently on trial at the Hague:

285) How the ICO review their polices following information tribunal cases

286) ACPO guidance on the the management of evidential material:

287) 225,000 emails have been sent to the PM via the number 10 website since the PM took office:

288) 229 people were convicted of offences connected to sham marriages during 2011:

289) Details of flaring by Shell/Exxon at the Mossmoran Chemical plant

290) The template letters used by Passenger Focus to respond to the public

291) Details of Westminster City Council’s deal with O2 to provide WiFi across the borough

292) A report from Ernst and Young identifying how Bedford Hospital NHS trust hope to save £9.94 million

293) Issues with Newham Council’s CCTV system left them unable monitor Newham’s rds “Not only are we losing out a huge amount of income but more importantly we are not able to monitor the newham roads

294) The miistry of Justice spends thousands of pounds a year on a Parliamentary directories

295) Which ICO staff are ISEB qualified

296) 799 couples who got married in Vegas filed for divorce in 2010:

297) What the Electoral Commission said in letters sent to eBay about General Election votes being up for sale online:

298) Shifnal town council in Shropshire spent £954 on fixing the Mayoral Chain

299) Which MPs have been disqualified from 1900 onwards:

300) The redevelopment agreement signed with Langtree Artisan for the Bradford Odeon site:

301) A list of all domain names:

302) Over the past decade, Kent police have issued 7723 fixed penalty notices for having illegal number plates:

303) The Department of Transport spent £108,975 on developing their current website & spend circa £6500/month on hosting it:

304) What the Tate was saying internally about BP’s sponsorship:

305) The location and contact details for every Surestart centre in the country:

306) How much the House of Lords spends on Vellum per anum:

307) The software code for air transport models

308) Handbook on facilities and services for Members of the house of commons

309) The text of letters sent to those who received honours:

310) Certificates confirming that London synagogues can conduct marriage ceremonies

311) What the seal on UK diplomatic bags looks like

321) Copies of Royal Warrants granting courtesy titles to supreme court justices

313) Copies of extradition certficates

314) Copies of minutes of the Electoral Commission’s executive team

315) Eight years worth of authorisations made under s44 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act

316) Information on grant partnership grants awarded by the Electoral Commission:

317) A copy of the accounts for the short lived office of the E-envoy

318) Permitted discharge notices from the Department of Energy and Climate Change

319) The amount spent on by the Science and Technology Facilities Council on rehiring staff that were previously made redundant:

320) A copy of the certificate that designated Tzipi Livini’s visit to the UK a special mission and prevented her arrest.

321) A copy of the Speakers Brief, that aids the lords speaker in dealing with the issues of the day

322) Correspondence between WhatDoTheyKnow and the department of education.

323) A Copy of the permission note given to “The Bill” to dress its actors in real metropolitan police uniforms

324)  Details of SOCPA authorised demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament

325) Treasury Guidance on Civil Service Grading

326) Who is eligible to use the Royal suite at Heathrow Airport:

327) Details of those provided with financial assistance to repatriate themselves when they are in danger of being forced into marriage:

328) The Guidelines used to ensure that Cabinet Meetings are Properly minuted:

329) A copy of the letter sent by the EDL to request that councils call Christmas Christmas

330) A copy of a prison service email warning offenders of the dangers of stating where they live or talking about gang affilliations whilst in prison.

331) Details of what support was made available to British Nationals who were evacuated from Libya

332) how the “Diamond Jubilee Unit” was created

333) 32 Copies of inHouse Magazine – produced by the House of Lords

334) Copy of permissions granted by the Commons Authorities that allowed Democracy Live to be launched

335) Data on the number of doubtful ballots cast at various elections

336) What Google and the ICO had to say about Google streetview:

337) What complaints made against Sheffield Taxi Drivers

338) The costs of refurbishing the British Embassy in Washington

339) Statistics from the Foreign office about people who go missing while abroad

340) Arrest statistics from Brits. on Holiday in Teneriffe

341) In the 2009-10 Financial year the FCO spent £24.8 Million on School fees

342) The amount of money seized by each UK Police force from criminals:

343) Details of meetings between the Home Office and Phorm

344) Correspondence on the classification of the Olympic Starting pistol as an offensive weapon

345) Highways Agency correspondence on the reduction of motorway litter

346) TfL Statistics on the number of pedestrian killed by collisions with buses since 2006

347) Details of the University of Oxford’s letter to the government epressing no confidence in the Education minister

348) A Study on Iraq Invasion by Lt Gen Chris Brown commissioned by the Ministry of Defence

349) Correspondence between Dick Fedorcio and Guto Hari on the arrest of Damian Green

350) A long running public bill committee cost £10,741.12

351) Information about the dedication of a memorial wall in Basra

352) An index to the parliamentary internet:

353) A copy of the letter sent to the Audit Commission on Fortnightly bin collections

354) TV Licensing contacts held by Capita released by the BBC

355) Internal audit reports from the Olympic Development Agency

356) Details of valid appeals under the Civil Service Code

357) Police logs on the protests on the Olympic Torch route before the Beijing Olympics

358) DWP guidance  and information about their Customer Compliance Department

359) What fines have been issued to students at Reading University for bad behaviour in halls:

360) Cardiff Council spent £2,158,696 on Microsoft Office licenses

361) Details of all the gifts and hospitality recieved by Ofcom

363) The DfT spends far more on PR and marketing than it spends on  FOI:

364) The number of times that the Royal Mail has threatened Legal Action for use of Postcode Data:

365) The business case for opening up various government datasets

366) What merchandise is for sale in the Downing Street Gift Shop:

David Cameron is right to be irritated with FOI!

A guest post by Lawrence Serewicz

The Freedom of Information Act has been attacked because of its apparent cost and the inconvenience it creates for organisations. David Cameron has expressed his concern over the FOIA requests that are all about the process. David Cameron is right requests under the Act do ask a lot of questions about the political process.  As a political leader, he wants to have the freedom to act without scrutiny.  As the Act creates a burden on the government machinery, it can also chill the government’s thinking.  A request under FOIA has an effect that is as bad as a politically motivated leak.

In his criticism David Cameron revealed more about himself than he intended.  As the Leveson Inquiry slowly grinds through the issues, the political process is revealed. We can now see the intersection between press, politicians, and the police. If FOIA had been in force 25 years ago, would we have had to wait so long to for Daniel Morgan’s death to receive the full attention it is now receiving?

What irritates David Cameron is exactly the reason why we need to strengthen and increase the power of the FOIA. The Act does reveal the “secrets” of the political process. Unlike the deep secrets like nuclear codes that protect the state, the “secrets” that it reveals are those hidden by an opaque political process.  The power of FOIA is that keeps politicians and organisations form being anonymous or hidden.  The politicians and bureaucrats do not hide in secrets; they hide in the political process.  What the FOIA reveals is not secrets, but the process and the overall political context.  If you do not know what the politician is doing, then they are hidden, and, therefore, unaccountable. If you know them only by their deeds, then the democratic process is weakened. Democracy is weakened when the people cannot influence the process or thinking that create the deed.

A second reason why David Cameron is right to be irritated with the Act is that it works. The Act allows us to exercise our democratic rights. When we hold a politician to account, we are exercising our democratic rights. What we show with that FOIA request is that the politician or organisation is answerable to the public. What the Act does is rebalance the relationship between the citizen and the state.

The challenge within a democracy, especially with a strong bureaucracy, is to get beyond the surface of an organisation to see how it works. The politically powerful can be seen all the time and they present themselves as they want the public to see them.  What FOIA does is allow the public to peer behind the curtain, to see them, if only for the moment, as they are.

Freedom of Information is more than government transparency. In the transparency agenda, the government is producing the information that it wants to disclose in the way it wants it disclosed. By contrast, the FOIA process is uncertain and democratic; it cannot be managed or packaged.  The public will ask what they want to know, not what the politician or the organisation wants to tell them. A question may be drivel, yet that drivel is democracy.  Why?  The question itself, and the fact that the organisation has to respond, is sign that the democratic political process works.  The applicant is acting to hold the organisation to account if only for it to comply with the FOIA.

Some critics argue that FOIA chills political discussions. Yet, this distorts the power and purpose of the FOIA.  The process to respond to an FOIA request is a rather dull one because the information requested is already created.  The information is static.  As a result, the organisation will be able to prepare itself for the disclosure or delay its disclosure to reduce any political effect. For example, the use of FOIA to obtain the Cabinet Minutes took years to get to the point of disclosure. Then they were withheld by Ministerial Veto.  Any political effect from the disclosure is only as an echo of original decision.  To put it differently but directly, by the time a request and a response get through the bureaucratic machinery, it is a known and managed political commodity.

The less access to information there is, the greater the reliance on leaks to obtain or disclose information. In contrast to the FOIA’s rather bureaucratic and stolid process political leaking by politicians or civil servants is dynamic and dangerous.  The leaks are not known, unless part of a political manoeuvre, so they cannot be managed.  They often present information out of context or in a raw form.  Ideas may be uninformed and speculative.  What we find is that the information is usually disclosed by politically motivated leakers such as politicians either protecting or savaging reputations.  Yet, they do not often serve the public interest so much as their own interest.

Lawrence Serewicz is Principal Information Management Officer at a local authority, blogs at and tweets as @lldzne

The Prime Minister and FOI

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, spoke on 6 March to the House of Commons Liaison Committee (chaired, interestingly enough, by Sir Alan Beith, who also chairs the Justice Committee undertaking post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000). Although he said the government were “not making any plans to change” the FOI Act, he appeared to compare it unfavourably to the government’s own “transparency agenda”, saying

It seems to me that real freedom of information is the money that goes in and the results that come out. Making Government transparent is the best thing.

We spend, or the system seems to spend, an age dealing with freedom of information requests which are all about processes and actually what the public or the country want to know is how much money are you spending, is that money being spent well and what are the results.

His speech has attracted some criticism. saveFOI co-founder Paul Gibbons has written on his own blog about it, as has the BBC’s Martin Rosenbaum on his.

Perhaps the key point had already been made last month though, when another co-founder of saveFOI, Tim Turner wrote on his blog that

Transparency…is geared towards an open-source, re-use model which is intrinsically positive, but totally separate from the accountability / scrutiny aim of FOI

saveFOI’s view is that FOI and the Transparency agenda are two cogs in the same machine, not options to be chosen between.

Is FOI costing the NHS?

A guest post from Paul Gibbons

Browsing through the written evidence from public bodies submitted to the Justice Select Committee in advance of the post-legislative scrutiny, there is a common complaint. FOI is an expensive use of public bodies’ limited resources, and money spent on answering FOI requests is money not spent on providing the core public services that those organisations are there for.

The most emotive arguments on these grounds come from bodies linked to the NHS. Just last week, Sue Slipman of the Foundation Trust Network wrote that “NHS bodies are being forced to spend millions on FoI instead of patients and the rules need to change”. On first reading, this is a persuasive argument.

Of course FOI costs money. Providing any service, and indeed scrutinising any service, costs money. Sue estimates that the cost of FOI to the NHS is £30 million. She does not set out how she reached this estimate, but most people would agree that £30 million is a large amount of money.

However, as always, it depends how you look at it. The budget for the NHS in 2011/12 is £105.9 billion. I’m not great with my maths, but by my calculations, £30 million is approximately 0.03% of the total NHS budget. In other words 99.97% of the budget is unaffected by FOI, even if you accept the estimate put forward by the Foundation Trust Network.

Whilst we’re playing with statistics, I’ve been doing some digging. According to a House of Commons Library briefing real terms expenditure on the NHS between 1999/00 and 2009/10 rose by 88%. The average rise in annual expenditure on the NHS between 2000/01 and 2009/10 was 6.5% – the highest in the history of the NHS. Spending on healthcare in the UK in 2010/11 made up 18% of all Government spending – the joint highest area of expenditure.

Is it really that unreasonable that a very small proportion of all that money should be spent on allowing the public (who pay for it through their taxes, let’s not forget) to scrutinise the NHS?

And as I’ll be saying a number of times during this campaign, any assessment of the cost of FOI has to be set against its benefits. FOI requests to the NHS have established that a very similar amount to the £30 million spent on FOI is spent on chaplains each year. We also now know that Capita makes £92 million from the NHS annually. Earlier this month the Mail on Sunday told how it used FOI to expose controversial close links between the NHS and McKinsey & co. It reported that McKinsey has already earned at least £13.8 million from the NHS since the Coalition Government came to power, and is positioned to make more should the proposed reforms of the NHS be completed. We will never know of course whether awareness of the public’s power to scrutinise the NHS has prevented significant expenditure in some situations. But I bet it has.

Let’s assume for a moment that you’re not quite convinced, and you still think FOI costs too much to the NHS. Well, even Sue Slipman suggests how that cost could be reduced without removing the rights of the public to question authorities. She says:

“Some trusts are making huge efforts to publish more information on their websites so that patients and the public can find information. One trust has found that this led to a small fall in FoI requests. When the information is already published as part of a publication scheme or in a virtual reading room, or has been requested previously, the FoI requestor can be referred directly to the publication scheme.”

This rather suggests that there is scope for NHS Trusts to manage the impact of FOI rather more effectively than they do at present. This is very much in line with the evidence provided to the Committee by Jim Amos of University College London’s Constitution Unit last week when he compared the performance of different authorities in responding to FOI requests. He suggested that in many cases, the authorities claiming that answering FOI requests took many hours often had very inefficient processes for dealing with FOI requests.

I am not unsympathetic to the NHS and its view of FOI. Between September 2009 and May 2010 I worked as an Information Governance Manager in an NHS Hospital Trust, so I have experience of dealing with FOI within the NHS. There was some irritation from colleagues at having to answer FOI requests when they were clearly under a range of pressures from all quarters. And it is difficult to say to a senior nurse or consultant that they should prioritise answering an FOI request over other activities.

However, in my experience, answering requests rarely involves clinical staff. Even when it does, they are the most senior clinical staff – the Medical Director, the Director of Nursing, for example. Their roles already involve administrative work, and they are paid handsomely for it. It is simply not true to say that time spent answering FOI requests is time not spent on patients in the vast majority of cases. And let’s be clear. Removing or limiting the demands of FOI will not stop NHS Trusts having to deal with patient complaints, answering general correspondence or, as Tim Turner pointed out, having to answer Environmental Information Regulations requests. There will still be significant administrative demands on the NHS.

If NHS Trusts want to cut the cost of FOI, they should look first at how efficient their processes for handling FOI requests are – and for instance, whether they are publishing enough information. And they need to consider the bigger picture. The vast expenditure on the NHS should be subject to scrutiny. FOI is one way in which it is held to account and it costs relatively little to administer.

Paul Gibbons is an FOI Officer for a public authority, and blogs at You can also find him on twitter under the name @FoIManUK