Freedom of information causing 'mass confusion' in local councils

There is "mass confusion" among UK councils about how they should change their systems to comply with forthcoming freedom of...

There is "mass confusion" among UK councils about how they should change their systems to comply with forthcoming freedom of information legislation, local authority IT user body Socitm has warned.

Earlier this month, the Information Commissioner's Office said local authorities need to do more to comply with the legislation - which comes into force in less than 10 months - after a survey revealed that many councils were falling behind.

"Although it is clear that local authorities recognise that the new legislation is looming, many have not woken up to the scale of the challenge," said Phil Boyd, assistant commissioner at the Information Commissioner's Office.

Many councils do not know where to start addressing the legislation, which requires certain information to be published openly and for councils to respond to all requests for information, said Andrea Simmons, associate consultant at Socitm. "There is a relative amount of panic out there," she said.

"Councils are being pulled towards e-government and they have to match data protection with the fall-out from events such as Soham as well as the freedom of information legislation. It is causing mass confusion."

The lack of buy-in and support from senior management has also affected compliance planning, according to Simmons. "IT has been left to its own devices," she said.

Although the government is providing local authorities with money to meet the e-government deadline in 2005 , many of the systems are being installed in isolation, she said.

"There is a great deal of money going into systems, such as CRM, but the systems are not being linked together," she said.

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