Needless bureaucracy and how FOI compliance should be much cheaper

July 26, 2011 3:54 PM

Anna Bailey recently chronicled the difficulties faced by people trying to exercise their legal right to get information from Nottingham City Council. The point of the Freedom of Information Act was to open up public information to greater scrutiny and make government more transparent. It was intended that public bodies would begin to routinely publish most information and that requests would only need to be made for the most obscure items that no one would be likely to request anyway. Sadly, many organisations have treated the Act as simply another layer of bureaucracy requiring more staff and, naturally, more funding.

[caption id="attachment_39332" align="aligncenter" width="454" caption="No shortage of bureaucracy in the NHS"][/caption]

Despite recent advances in opening up official information to public scrutiny, those of us who wish to get hold of information often have to rely on the Freedom of Information Act in order to do our bit in holding those who spend taxpayers’ money to account. Sadly, instead of embracing the transparency agenda, many authorities choose instead to waste staff time and taxpayers’ money in attempts to hide what they are doing in our names and with our money.

I’ve copied below the transcript of an email exchange I recently enjoyed with an official in the NHS and someone with a fancier job title who I presume was her manager.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hi Rory

Please find attached the information as per your FOI request as discussed.
Assistant Bureaucrat
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hello Assistant Bureaucrat,

Thank you for your email. The attachment you sent appears to be a scanned in PDF of a printed out spreadsheet. Would it be possible to kindly send the spreadsheet itself?

Kind regards,
Rory Meakin
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hi Rory

Just to confirm that we do not normally send out editable documents when replying to FOI requests.

Many thanks
Senior Bureaucrat
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hello Senior Bureaucrat,

I’d like to confirm that I wanted to know if you would provide the document I requested rather than what you normally do.

As you have taken the time to convert the information from a versatile, easy-to-use document into a unflexible, difficult-to-use alternative, you will appreciate this hampers our ability to scrutinise the information and therefore acts as a barrier to accountability, transparency and openness, for what seems to be no better reason than it is existing practice to do so.

Could you kindly reconsider my request?

Many thanks,
Rory
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hi Rory

Spreadsheet attached as requested.

Regards,
Assistant BureaucratAnna Bailey recently chronicled the difficulties faced by people trying to exercise their legal right to get information from Nottingham City Council. The point of the Freedom of Information Act was to open up public information to greater scrutiny and make government more transparent. It was intended that public bodies would begin to routinely publish most information and that requests would only need to be made for the most obscure items that no one would be likely to request anyway. Sadly, many organisations have treated the Act as simply another layer of bureaucracy requiring more staff and, naturally, more funding.

[caption id="attachment_39332" align="aligncenter" width="454" caption="No shortage of bureaucracy in the NHS"][/caption]

Despite recent advances in opening up official information to public scrutiny, those of us who wish to get hold of information often have to rely on the Freedom of Information Act in order to do our bit in holding those who spend taxpayers’ money to account. Sadly, instead of embracing the transparency agenda, many authorities choose instead to waste staff time and taxpayers’ money in attempts to hide what they are doing in our names and with our money.

I’ve copied below the transcript of an email exchange I recently enjoyed with an official in the NHS and someone with a fancier job title who I presume was her manager.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hi Rory

Please find attached the information as per your FOI request as discussed.
Assistant Bureaucrat
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hello Assistant Bureaucrat,

Thank you for your email. The attachment you sent appears to be a scanned in PDF of a printed out spreadsheet. Would it be possible to kindly send the spreadsheet itself?

Kind regards,
Rory Meakin
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hi Rory

Just to confirm that we do not normally send out editable documents when replying to FOI requests.

Many thanks
Senior Bureaucrat
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hello Senior Bureaucrat,

I’d like to confirm that I wanted to know if you would provide the document I requested rather than what you normally do.

As you have taken the time to convert the information from a versatile, easy-to-use document into a unflexible, difficult-to-use alternative, you will appreciate this hampers our ability to scrutinise the information and therefore acts as a barrier to accountability, transparency and openness, for what seems to be no better reason than it is existing practice to do so.

Could you kindly reconsider my request?

Many thanks,
Rory
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hi Rory

Spreadsheet attached as requested.

Regards,
Assistant Bureaucrat

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