Ministers have again refused a request from the information commissioner for extra funding to clear the backlog of ‘freedom of information’ complaints.
The department of constitional affairs, which oversees freedom of information act (FOIA) in the UK, rebuffed the plea for an additional £750,000 for the 2007/08 financial year on top of its proposed funding of £4.7 million.
Richard Thomas, who regulates FOIA as the information commissioner, said the money was needed to clear by March 2008 the backlog of complaints about refusals by public bodies to disclose requested material.
But Lord Falconer, who heads the department as constitutional affairs secretary, has decided that the information commissioner’s budget would be £4.7 million.
Without the extra funding, Thomas said at the time of his funding request last October: “We would continue to be able to close 50% of the new cases we receive each month within 30 days of receipt, but most of the remaining cases would have to wait in a queue before allocation to one of the complaints teams.
“This would mean a delay of approximately six months before we can investigate such cases. Overall, most of these cases would take over nine months in total to deal with, and some may take considerably longer.
“We would be unable to clear the backlog that will still remain at the start of next [financial] year.”
Thomas said that an early decision on his request was “vital”.
But the government has only told Thomas of its decision just before the start of the new financial year.
Thomas had previously requested £1.13 million extra funding for the 2006/07 financial year to clear the backlog of complaints by March 2007.
But, after that financial year began, the govern-ment agreed only to an extra £550,000.
The shortfall meant that the information comm-ission has been unable to clear the backlog.
The information commissioner’s performance came under attack in June last year from MPs on the constitutional affairs committee who reviewed the first year of ‘freedom of information’ in the UK.
The commissioner has since told the committee that, as of last February, there was a backlog of 600 “complex cases”.
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