Public bodies unprepared for the Freedom of Information Act

Parts of the health service, police and local authorities will not be fully prepared for the Freedom of Information Act, which...

Parts of the health service, police and local authorities will not be fully prepared for the Freedom of Information Act, which comes into force in January, a parliamentary committee has concluded.

Lack of central government guidance on IT systems, indecision over fees, and the late delivery of government advice, have left public bodies with little time to comply , the Constitutional Affairs Committee warned

"The law demands that all areas of public service covered by the Act should be ready by 1 January 2005. We are not confident that adequate preparations have been made," the committee said in a critical report.

The committee raised particular concerns about the health sector, accusing the government of failing to provide the necessary leadership to address technical and organisational problems before the January deadline.

FOI seemed to be regarded as another hurdle that had to surmounted in the health service, with little sign of any cultural change towards openness, MPs on the committee concluded.

Local authorities were given only weeks to prepare for some aspects of Freedom of Information, following delays in issuing guidance by the Department of Constitutional Affairs. They are only likely to cope if the there is a relatively low level of FOI requests.

Although police forces were generally better prepared, the DCA may have cost tax payers millions by asking forces to produce individual specifications for FOI workflow systems, rather than produce a central specification.

"Central guidance appears to have been lacking in important areas," the report concludes, while guidance on technical issues and IT systems was delivered late.

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