1. Changes to public authorities today

    National Health Service changes in England

    Today (1st April 2013) marks a significant change in the way that the NHS in England is structured.  Strategic Health Authorities (SHA) & Primary Care Trusts (PCT) are abolished, and their responsibilities are being taken on by newly created Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG), the National Commissioning Board, Public Health England and local authorities.

    The split is roughly along these lines:

    • Clinical Commissioning Groups commission elective hospital care, urgent and emergency care, community healthcare and mental healthcare & learning disability services for the local areas they cover
    • The National Commissioning Board covers primary care contracting (GP Contracting, Dental, Pharmacy), specialised services, offender healthcare, secure mental health care and some armed forces healthcare
    • “Top-tier” and unitary Local Authorities take on responsibilities for these aspects of public health: sexual health services, drug and alcohol treatment, health checks, school nursing programmes, giving up smoking programmes and services to prevent childhood obesity
    • Public Health England is a national body which will work closely with local authorities’ public health teams, carrying out a range of activities to protect and improve the nation’s health, eg to co-ordinating work to combat infectious diseases such as flu or infections acquired in hospitals such as MRSA, or to carry out national publicity campaigns to prevent ill health

    This means quite a bit of change to the public authority listings on WhatDoTheyKnow:

    1) PCTs and SHAs are now marked as “defunct” to prevent new requests from being made (see below for more details).

    2) We’ve now listed all the new CCGs, but we’re missing email addresses for around 15% of them.  It’s clear that many CCGs are not quite ready to welcome FOI requests.  Even though they went live today, there are a fair number of websites still under construction (I’ve seen lots of “lorem ipsum” text today), with no contact details.  We aim to get these all up-to-date in the next few weeks as they get up to speed.

    3) The National Commissioning Board and Public Health England have been added to the site

    4) We’ll be adding local Health and Wellbeing Boards, Healthwatch organisations & Local Education & Training Boards soon.

    Police Service changes in Scotland

    Under the banner of reducing duplication and cost-saving (BBC article), police services in Scotland are being completely re-organised with 2 new central bodies replacing all the regional police forces and boards:

    Fire Service changes in Scotland

    Similar changes are taking place with Scotland’s fire services:

    Other joiners & leavers…

    The following is a round-up of other changes taking place today…

    Say hello to:

    And goodbye to:

    And although they’re officially changing, it’s pretty much business as usual for:

    Defunct public authorities

    We flag old public bodies that no longer exist as “defunct” to prevent new requests from being made.  In most circumstances FOI officers transfer across in-flight requests to the relevant replacement authority.  If you need to follow-up a request to a defunct public body (e.g. if there’s no further contact from an authority), the website will let you, however the “old” authority is no longer under any obligation to reply.  You may need to re-send your request to a new public authority which will restart the 20-day clock…

    Please help us!

    Given the scale of change, if you find any incorrect information for these public authority listings, please let us know!  Also please get in touch if you find an email address for any of those we’re still on the hunt for…

     

  2. WhatDoTheyKnow now 6% in Welsh

    Helô!

    Alaveteli (the software that runs WhatDoTheyKnow) is capable of being translated into any language, and we’ve finally switched on the ability to use the website in Welsh today. Many apologies for the long wait as this has been on our to-do list for well over 2 years…

    As you can see, we don’t yet have a complete Welsh translation, and it’s just a start:  we’ve done the help pages, and around 6% of the rest.  To take a look at what’s been done, just click the “Cymraeg” link at the top of any page.

    We’d love it if you could help us get to 100% by adding translations (or correcting any mistakes we’ve made!) at Transifex. You can read more about working with translations for Alaveteli, here and here, or just get in touch if you need a helping hand getting started or have any further questions.

    And finally, a massive thank you & diolch to the translators who have already helped us get this far!

  3. Most viewed requests – 19-25 November 2012

    One WhatDoTheyKnow statistic that we often quote, is that for each request written on the site, around 30 requests are read.  I’ve been recently taking a look at our web statistics, and thought you mind find it useful or interesting to see which are our most read requests.

    So, here are the top 10 for last week.

    There’s a definite theme, most readers are looking for information on the new Universal Jobmatch service which went live last week, without much mainstream media coverage, so people have a lot of questions which are being discussed on a number of DWP-watching blogs, Facebook & Twitter.

    1. Medicine A100 Admissions Statistics (Imperial College London)   – 629 unique views. Find out detailed statistics on who applied for Medicine at ICL – seemingly the most popular university out of these similar requests.
    2. Universal Jobmatch (DWP) – 702 views. This request asked for “leaflets or training info or guides given to jobcentre staff or customers to explain Universal Jobmatch”. A summary of training guides was provided, but no detail – one for future follow-up FOI requests?
    3. Universal Jobmatch and the Government Gateway (DWP) – 508 views. Detailed information was asked on the procedures and guidance issued to Jobcentre Plus staff relating to Jobmatch. The request is still in progress.
    4. Universal Jobmatch is Mandatory (DWP) – 446 views. The requester asked whether Universal Jobmatch will be mandatory for anyone on Jobseekers Allowance. The DWP refused the request, claiming Section 35 (formulation of government policy) and Section 42 (legal professional privilege). They said that the policy was still being developed, and (or?) that information was legally privileged. An internal review has been requested.
    5. Medicine A100 Statistics (Imperial College London) – 427 views. This asks for more recent 2011 & 2012 data, following on from #1. There’s a thestudentroom.co.uk forum poston this which is tracking all the medical schools’ statistics.
    6. Is signing up to Universal Jobmatch compulsory to claim JSA? (DWP) – 421 views. We don’t know as there’s no answer just yet.
    7. List of research used by the Secretary of State supporting the Academisation of state schools (Department for Education) – 406 views. Most traffic for this request came from this tweet from @alanmills405. This request is in still progress, so click its “Follow” button to find out the DfE’s response.
    8. Location of every post box that the Royal Mail Group operates (Royal Mail) – 324 views. This is one of our all-time top 3 most viewed requests, with around 22,000 visitors each year looking at it. Data from this request has been incorporated into a number of different apps and websites – follow the various links added to the request. I wonder why Royal Mail hasn’t done more to open up this data…
    9. Universal Jobmatch and Monster Worldwide emails (DWP) – 292 views. Apparently if you’re in a “junior” position, and not public facing, then your work emails are “personal data”, and exempt under FOI. Doesn’t sound right to me.
    10. New appointments opening time (UK Border Agency) – 284 views. Apparently, sometime after midnight seems to be the best time to try to bag your appointment (although the UKBA didn’t provide this information). Disappointment likely though – we get a lot of correspondence from people frustrated with the UK Border Agency’s slow pace at casework, poor communication and lack of detailed guidance on their website.

    If you’re interested in keeping up with any of these requests, especially if there’s no response yet, then click the “Follow” button at the top of each request page to be alerted when an update is received, either by email or RSS.

  4. WhatDoTheyKnow’s Share of Central Government FOI Requests – Q2 2011

    The Ministry of Justice have just published their latest quarterly statistics on the handling of Freedom of Information requests by central government bodies.  We’ve crunched the numbers to compare them to the requests made using WhatDoTheyKnow.com

    The graph shows our share of FOI requests sent to central Departments of State jumped to 14.6% in the 1st quarter of 2011.

    This time round, the top 3 departments were:

    1. Home Office (which includes the UK Border Agency, CRB & Identity & Passport Service) – 254 requests out of 866 – 29%
    2. Department for Education – 81 requests out of 328 – 25%
    3. Department for Communities and Local Government – 59 requests out of 250 – 24%

    Many of the WhatDoTheyKnow users contacting the Home Office & UK Border Agency are trying to find out information about their own immigration case.  We regularly receive emails from applicants asking for help, as they have often been waiting months (or even years in some cases) for an official update to their case, often with the UKBA holding on to identity documents or passport.  Applicants then feel they have to resort to making FOI requests. Many of these are auto-replied by this standard FAQ, and applicants don’t receive a personal answer.  The large 29% share of all Home Office requests suggests that the normal contact methods to keep people updated aren’t working or even that their service is simply struggling with demand.  It’s also likely that they don’t consider these types of requests as formal FOI requests, so it is worth noting that we are likely to be slightly overstating the percentage share figures.

    Free schools were a popular topic for the Department of Education – 9 out of 81 requests were on this subject, and nearly all were refused on the basis that information would be published at some unspecified date in the future.

    To understand the limitations of the data analysis, please see here.

    One interesting trend that has been consistently seen is that FOI requests are more frequent in odd-numbered quarters compared to even ones – if you have any ideas why this may be the case, please add them to the comments!

    To
    - Communities and Local Government
  5. Some FOI stats on local authorities

    I recently found these requests by James Muldoon covering FOI statistics for the London Boroughs for 2009.  As we regularly carry out analysis of WhatDoTheyKnow’s percentage share of FOI requests to central Government Departments of State, I thought it would make for an interesting comparison to do the same for the 33 Metropolitan borough councils, plus the City of London.

    Below is a graph of the market share for WDTK.

    Overall, the share for 2009 was 8.1%.  During the year, the share did fluctuate quite a bit, and the requests on WhatDoTheyKnow were significantly lower in the 2nd quarter for some reason.

    Q1: Jan-Mar 2009 – 9.4%
    Q2: Apr-Jun 2009 – 5.1%
    Q3: Jul-Sep 2009 – 9.5%
    Q4: Oct-Dec 2009 – 8.3%

    The City of Westminster has a much higher number of FOI requests compared to the other boroughs, mostly apparently due to a large motorcyclist parking campaign/protest.  73% of all requests made to Westminster via WhatDoTheyKnow in 2009 contained the words “parking”, “motorcycle” or “Verrus” (203 out of 278).

    I will soon start looking for FOI statistics for Local Authorities outside London, either on WDTK, or via their disclosure logs.  The Ministry of Justice encourages Local Authorities to regularly publish statistics on their FOI data.

    Data caveats

    • Brent - excluded from totals & comparison as the underlying FOI request is still outstanding.  The ICO is apparently investigating.
    • Camden -  Q1-2009 data excluded from totals & comparison due to partial refusal to the FOI request by Camden (FOI Act Section 12, costs of complying too high)
    • Southwark - excluded from totals & comparison.  They said in their FOI response:  “due to a serious malfunction of our reporting database we have no access to the data stored centrally”.  The data has been re-requested by James to see if the malfunction has been fixed.
  6. Bonfire of the Quangos

    A number of non-departmental government bodies / quangos have been named as being up for abolition, merger, privatisation or absorption into parent departments, as part of the Coalition Government’s Spending Review, due this autumn. This has been widely dubbed in the press as a “bonfire of the quangos“.  The list of quangos up for review is still being compiled by the government, and there have been a number of clarifications, amendments and retractions as further details come to light.

    The Telegraph has obtained and published today a leaked list of 177 quangos up for abolition, plus a further 200 that are still being reviewed.

    This is a great opportunity to highlight that mySociety’s Freedom of Information site WhatDoTheyKnow covers nearly all of these little-known bodies that spend public money (we currently have just over 3,800 public authorities listed on the site).  Given their impending doom, there is little time left to find out what they spent public funds on, as only their most important records will be transferred to the National Archives or successor bodies for permanent storage.  The remainder are likely to be shredded, or deleted, as only “records identified as valuable for future administrative need” are kept.

    You can see our annotated list of the Telegraph’s list here - our volunteers have added links to most of the bodies’ pages on WhatDoTheyKnow, so you can more easily make your final FOI requests to them…

    Please send any missing contact details to the WhatDoTheyKnow team.

  7. ICO “Line to take” documents

    In January 2007 the Information Commissioner’s Office disclosed via FOI 28 “line to take” (LTT) documents (pdf).  These are topic-based documents, produced by their Policy Team, and they are used internally by their case workers as how they interpret and apply the various sections of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

    They are mostly based on Information Tribunal rulings which have set a legal precedent, or relevant ICO decision notices, but for some topics they are based on the ICO’s own interpretations of the FOI Act, indicating how they’re likely to handle the subject matter of these complaints.

    For someone looking to appeal a particular FOI decision made by a public authority (eg a refusal to provide information due to an exemption in the FOI Act), these LTTs are a very useful addition to the FOI guidance already produced by the Ministry of Justice or the ICO.  They can be used to verify whether the authority’s stance is appropriate, and allow the requester to point the authority toward how the ICO sees that particular topic, and therefore challenge a FOI decision.

    Although I’m a volunteer for WhatDoTheyKnow, I occasionally make FOI requests in a personal capacity. As I only recently found the above LTTs from 2007, I therefore asked the ICO for an updated list of LTTs.  These have now been provided, and there is now a big library of 177 LTTs.  They sent them via 6 large PDF files, so I have made them available in a more structured, searchable and (hopefully) easier to use manner via FOIwiki.com which is maintained by some of the WDTK volunteers:

    http://foiwiki.com/foiwiki/index.php/LTT

    In addition to the master list of LTTs available via the link above, they can also be accessed in context with their associated FOI Act exemption page, eg Section 41: Information Provided In Confidence

    Two items of note from the LTTs.

    • They may not always be 100% up to date. E.g LTT47 (last updated in 2007) says “it should be noted that the Time for Compliance Regulations do not extend to schools in Northern Ireland” – this was fixed via legislation passed last year (SI 2009/1369)
    • There are a few LTTs which set out that the ICO disagree with a particular Information Tribunal ruling, and that they would approach the complaint in a different way, e.g LTT119 or LTT168. These could present a problem with making a relevant FOI complaint

    I hope you find them useful!  All comments or suggestions welcomed.

  8. WhatDoTheyKnow’s Share of Central Government FOI Requests – Q1 2010

    The Ministry of Justice recently released the latest statistics on freedom of information implementation in central government for the first quarter of 2010.  We can use this data to roughly calculate the share of FOI requests made via mySocety’s Freedom of Information website WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

    According to the Ministry of Justice 6,857 requests were made to “Departments of State” between January and March 2010, of which 707 were made via WhatDoTheyKnow – a 10% share.  Defra and DCSF had the highest percentage of WhatDoTheyKnow requests in the first quarter, at 23% and 24% respectively.  We have made the departmental breakdown of the statistics for the past two years available as a Google Spreadsheet.

    Precise calculations of the percentage share are not possible, due to the way each department defines a valid request.  For example, some FOI requests to the UK Border Agency (included in Home Office data) or the FCO made via WhatDoTheyKnow would not have been counted as FOI requests, but instead as “routine requests for information”, falling outside the scope of data collection for the statistics produced by the Ministry of Justice.  In addition, requests for data readily available (i.e. exempt under Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act) are not counted either by the MoJ, but will be included in the WhatDoTheyKnow statistics.  Overall, these form a minority of requests made by WhatDoTheyKnow, so the percentage share we quote is fairly accurate.

    WDTK share of central departments’ FOI requests

    WDTK share of central departments’ FOI requests

    The graph shows that the total numbers and percentage of requests have been fairly consistent over the past year, around 10-13%.  Share of requests increased significantly during 2008 as the site grew in popularity following its launch.

    The large increase in total FOI requests between Q4 2008 and Q1 2009 may partly be due to the increased popularity of WhatDoTheyKnow and also increased visibility of Freedom of Information to the general public through more mentions of FOI law in the media.  Key stories in the press included Jack Straw’s veto against disclosure of the Iraq War Cabinet Minutes and Parliament’s aborted attempt to hide details of MPs’ Expenses. Requests made via WhatDoTheyKnow accounted for around 20% of the total increase in FOI requests.

    It’s worth bearing in mind that the above graph only covers the 22 central Departments.  WhatDoTheyKnow.com lists over 3,750 authorities including local government councils, police forces, NHS Trusts, non-ministerial departments and many more, and also covers Scotland’s public authorities. There is no national monitoring of how many FOI requests are made to such bodies, or how well they perform when responding to requests.

    In total, 6,565 requests were made via WDTK in the first quarter, 87% of which were to non-central Departments.  It’s unlikely that the site will ever get full coverage as the majority of FOI requests originate from companies carrying out market research, journalists, political parties and charities, most of whom prefer to make requests in private in order to maintain exclusivity over the released data.  WhatDoTheyKnow would like to include these companies in future, possibly by offering a managed FOI service on a fee basis, including an embargo period prior to the released information being made fully available on the internet – more information is available from the WhatDoTheyKnow team.

    Articles based on previous statistics releases: