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ICO: Nearly HALF all FOI complaints are about local councils

Even central gov's hefty heap can't compete

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The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) received 1,922 freedom of information complaints about local authorities in 2011-12, accounting for 43 per cent of the total number of complaints, according to the watchdog's latest annual report.

The document says that of the 4,633 freedom of information complaints during the year, those about local authorities were the most numerous, while central government accounted for 24 per cent, health 11 per cent, education 8 per cent, and police and criminal justice 7 per cent.

Overall, the ICO saw a 7 per cent rise in the number of freedom of information complaints during the year. The report says, however, that despite this increase and cuts in government grant-in-aid, it has reduced the number of complaints that have taken more than six months to complete by 66 per cent.

"As budgets tighten and public spending comes under even greater scrutiny, public authorities must remain transparent and accountable if they are to retain the trust of the public they serve," said Information Commissioner Christopher Graham.

The ICO's data protection complaint casework decreased by just 0.3 per cent in 2011-12 against 2012-11, from 13,034 cases to 12,985. Of these complaints, 11 per cent were about local authorities, 10 per cent concerned health, 6 per centcentral government, 4 per cent policing and criminal records, and 4 per cent were about education.

The watchdog says it had issued 10 civil monetary penalty notices totalling nearly £1.2m during the past year, in addition to two enforcement notices and 76 undertakings. Last month the ICO imposed its highest civil monetary penalty to date, when it fined Brighton and Sussex university hospitals NHS trust £325,000 following the discovery of highly sensitive personal data belonging to tens of thousands of patients and staff on hard drives sold on an internet auction site in October and November 2010.

"Over the past year the ICO has bared its teeth and has taken effective action to punish organisations, many of which have shown a cavalier attitude to looking after people's personal information," said Graham.

"This year we have seen some truly shocking examples, with sensitive personal information, including health records and court documents, being lost or misplaced, causing considerable distress to those concerned."

The report says the ICO secured eight convictions for criminal offences relating to unlawfully obtaining personal data, and administered seven cautions for this type of offence.

On its IT systems, the ICO says that it is carrying out a re-procurement of its technology services and is looking to find significant savings in third-party procurement. The aim is for a "more modern" and user-friendly online notification system, followed by an upgrade of finance systems. Graham has said previously that his office planned to spend about 20 per cent of its current £15m budget on IT.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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