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Committee: Meeting Date: Lead Councillor/s: Local Councillor/s: Sponsor: Contact Point: Executive Committee 11 February 2003 Kathy Pollard All Guenever Pachent, Assistant Director, Libraries & Heritage, 01473 584558 Margaret Davies, Head of Information & Learning, Libraries & Heritage 01473 584559
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (FOI) PUBLICATION SCHEME BRIEF SUMMARY OF REPORT 1. This paper introduces the FOI publication scheme which is attached, and sets out why we wrote it and the processes we went through. It asks the committee to adopt the scheme as an evolving document for publication in print and on the website. It notes that the Information Commissioner has indicated approval for the scheme for 2003 to 2007. The paper refers to the need for a Corporate Information Unit and the funding for it. It describes the next steps in implementing the FOI Act and the nature of the resources these will take.
ACTION RECOMMENDED 4. To adopt the attached Freedom of Information Publication Scheme for Suffolk as an evolving document for immediate publication in print, with new editions as appropriate, and on the website, with continuous updating. To note that implementing the act will require organisational change in all directorates, with staff in all parts of the council needing to acquire new skills and change the way they work. To require an FOI implementation strategy and action plan by the last quarter of 2003/04.
REASON FOR RECOMMENDATION Publication scheme 7. The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 introduces new rights to obtain information from public organisations. It is a key part of the government’s framework for open and transparent access to information. It complements
there are some exemptions. but would also need new resources. 12. We have to say whether the material will be available free of charge or how much it will cost. 15. Information is a resource. The subsequent report included a recommendation that we set up a Corporate Information Unit. Information is a vital corporate and service resource of the council which we sometimes waste or duplicate. When the Act comes fully into force in January 2005. Three staff. means everything published and held by the organisation: web pages. maps. When deciding how to group the classes of information. have drawn up the publication scheme in a short space of time. Information. everyone will have the right to access almost all of the council’s information – past records while we still hold them. present and future. The scheme must by available to the public by February 2003. These are set out in the publication scheme. photos and so on. particularly to cater for information which we do not yet make public. We have to group documents in the publication scheme together as best we can in ways that will make sense to people looking for information. 10. This is because we do not yet have sufficiently robust structures. By January 2005 we will need classes to cover almost all our information. 13.000 pa. We will add more classes of information during 2003 to 2005. in the order of £200. In the summer of 2002 we commissioned research by the University College London to advise us how to meet the obligations of the FOI Act. 9. Corporate information unit 14. We have to publish the scheme both electronically on the web and in print. As the first step in the process. as important to the organisation as for example property or technology. to be sponsored by a member of the Corporate Management Team and led by a senior professional with the skills and influence to implement and gain acceptance for change. 11. Although we have to adopt a policy of openness by publishing as much information as possible. in the context of the FOI Act. and review the scheme regularly. we called on best practice and have grouped the information in a way that mirrors the web site. processes or skills in place everywhere to stop us losing some of it or duplicating it. 16. seconded from Libraries & Heritage and Resource Management and guided by an all-directorate steering group. Information is sometimes confused with technology. A Corporate Information Unit would incorporate some existing functions of the council eg records management. 2 .the Data Protection Act 1998 which already gives individuals the right to obtain information about themselves. electronic and paper documents. 8. Without a Unit it will be difficult to begin to implement the FOI Act. the Act required all local authorities to prepare a publication scheme for submission in December 2002 and approval by the Information Commission by February 2003. Funding for the Unit is covered by the budget proposals in the budget paper on this agenda.
videos or any medium. use and store information. and with the Communications Unit which provides the policy and guidelines on what SCC publishes and communicates. Implementing the FOI Act means that as staff we will need to change the way we work. 19. The objectives are to meet the requirements of the FOI Act. will need keywords. and get rid of what we no longer need. We will need to acquire a spirit of openness for almost all our information. A unit and related network of champions and culture changes within directorates will enable us to deal with a wide range of demands of the FOI Act on current and future records. To amend the attached publication scheme. when chosen. rather than multiples of copies stored in multiple filing cabinets. Pieces of work. creating and filing our information according to corporate standards and guidelines. and a policy for charging. The Unit would work closely with Resource Management – particularly on the ICT strategy. it will be a small facilitating unit with a network of information champions in directorates. AIMS AND OBJECTIVES 23. We will need to develop the publication scheme and expand it significantly so that it refers to all the council’s information. If supplied with the technological partner. 21. access permissions. on Electronic Records Management (ERM) software. If we are able to set up a Corporate Information Unit from early in 2003/04. 25. We will need to move to single copies of information stored electronically throughout the council. processes and conditions for culture changes which will allow the council efficiently and effectively to produce. that the scheme is an evolving document with continuous updating. Funding for training is included in the budget proposals. so that we can retrieve what citizens ask for. we will all need to use a corporate ERM system. If the council moves its headquarters to Russell House. with Scrutiny and Monitoring which would advise on compliance with the FOI Act.17. These include the development of processes for answering and recording enquiries across the council. 20. ANTICIPATED TARGETS AND ACHIEVEMENT TIMESCALES 24. We submitted an earlier version of the publication scheme to the Information Commissioner to meet his deadline of 31 December 2002. be they documents. at least in Ipswich. the consequent need to rationalise storage space will help bring about this culture change. and with the technological partner. 3 . ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS 22. Changing the way we work 18. disposal schedules and so on. and to set up structures. indeed required. 26. and delete or archive it. make it accessible. It is accepted. He has approved it for the period 2003 to 2007. An information unit and the FOI Act will require changes in the way many staff work – by January 2005.
36.27. We will also help more people to access our services more easily (priority I). Advice to SCC on the implementation of the FOI Act by Dick Baxter. While developing the publication scheme we consulted with councillors and officers from all directorates. SOURCES OF FURTHER INFORMATION a) b) Guidance from the Information Commissioner. and to develop and roll out training to a significant number of staff. Nor are we sure at this stage whether we have enough resources to manage all our past records – our preparations are aimed first at managing current and future records. 35. to make finding information as easy as possible for the citizen. We will need consistent standards for retention and deletion of records across directorates. 32. We will need to develop with our public sector partners a more joined-up approach to publication schemes. 34. We will continue to ask for comment from stakeholders after we have published the scheme. POLICY AND PERFORMANCE PLAN 31. School of Public Policy. We asked for comment from citizens via the web site. through the priority and budget setting process. By adopting and publishing the FOI publication scheme we are continuing to demonstrate that ‘we will be open in everything we do to ensure that we are fully accountable to the people of Suffolk’. we will need access to an electronic records management system from desk top PCs. CONSULTATIONS 33. We will consult the Access and Community Involvement Overview and Scrutiny Committee when developing the FOI strategy and action plan. 30. and the Corporate Management Team have been consulted about the setting up of a Corporate Information Unit. 29. University College London. 28. and whether we will have sufficient resources to answer them. 4 . We will need to develop consistent standards for the recording and referencing of information council wide. Together with the technological partner and as part of the ICT strategy. August 2002. We do not know how many FOI enquiries we will receive from 2005 onwards. The portfolio holders.
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