A partnership with software developer Metastorm has helped Portsmouth City Council comply with the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, which comes into force from the beginning of next year.
The council has given the software company feedback on adapting its products to help local authorities meet the requirements of the Act, and in return gets discounted software and a product suited to its needs.
"It has certainly been a good deal for us," said Bob France, head of IT at the council. "We have been able to shape the product to our needs. There are not many others around and the only alternative was to build one ourselves."
From January 2005, the Freedom of Information Act gives individuals and organisations the right to request any information public bodies hold on them. Each public body must respond within 20 working days, although there is a complex set of exemption criteria, France said.
The system will allow the council to track FOI requests as they progress. It will monitor work done on them and who is responsible and create tags on electronically held information. It can also check whether fees are payable for the work. Such a system is necessary because of the range of requests councils can expect and the complexity of the work, said France, who also heads the council’s FOI programme.
"It is a very difficult process to administer and in general the challenge is getting the whole organisation to commit to a culture of openness and to process information requests. It is an order of magnitude more complex than implementing the Data Protection Act," he added.