It is true that the ICO has limited resources. When she spoke to MPs last week, Denham said the budget for its work policing FOIs across other organisations had reduced from £5.5m in 2010, to just £3.75m now.
But we have not heard the same level of criticism from Denham about the ICO’s budget for dealing with its own FOI responses.
In any case, it is difficult to avoid a conclusion that, under Denham's tenure, the ICO took its eye off the ball when it comes to FOI. Its long-term strategic reports – such as the Information Rights Strategic Plan of 2017 and the Regulatory Action Policy of 2018 – focus far more on data protection regulation than FOI. Indeed, Denham's valedictory speech, made on 26 November, contained not a single reference to FOI. So perhaps it is unsurprising that extra government funding for the work has not been forthcoming.
When MPs asked about the idea of setting up a new regulator to deal with FOI, Denham rejected it. With painful irony, she said: “Those at the top of public bodies have a huge influence on whether or not their staff embrace the spirit of transparency in their work.”
Let us hope that her successor, John Edwards, will address the office’s own shocking compliance with FOI – the very laws it is meant to promote.
openDemocracy approached the ICO for comment and was told that it now has an action in place to tackle the backlog in FOI requests.
Jon Baines is the chair of the National Association of Data Protection and Freedom of Information Officers.
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