Socitm warns that councils' IT systems are not ready for Freedom of Information Act

Some local authorities do not have the IT systems in place to meet all the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, which...

Some local authorities do not have the IT systems in place to meet all the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, which came into force at the beginning of this year, according to Socitm, the public sector IT managers' organisation.

Socitm president Chris Guest said that although many councils were well prepared for the legislation, which entitles individuals or companies access to public sector information within 20 days, others were not.

"There will be a lot of procurement of document management systems into the year. Some people are running behind," he said.

Other authorities are inappropriately shifting responsibility for freedom of information onto IT departments, said Guest.

The act "is an organisational issue. In some cases it has been moved on to the head of IT - that is the wrong approach. It is about cultural change within the public sector from the need to know to the right to know. There are issues to do with IT, but they are part of a wider business change."

The Office of the Information Commissioner will be responsible for enforcing the act and Graham Smith, deputy information commissioner, said he was most concerned about smaller public sector bodies, including small councils, non-departmental bodies and smaller health organisations.

"If there is evidence of regular failure we can go in and look at systems and find out why this is happening and what they need to do to put things in order," he said.

Guest said he hoped the information commissioner would take a pragmatic approach over the next four months in dealing with councils that were failing on some aspects of the act.

Later this week Socitm will publish guidance to help councils manage the needs of the Freedom of Information Act. It suggested that organisations short of resources should maximise the amount of information available on their websites to cope with demand from the public.

Research has shown that customers prefer self-service and could handle their own freedom of information enquiries, but for this to happen it must be easy to find, said Socitm.

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