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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 02/11/2004
The Freedom of Information Act 2000



Summary & Purpose
The purpose of this report is to update the Executive on the progress made to date on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) and to summarise the actions that need to be taken to ensure that Waverley is prepared for January 2005 and to indicate the actions that will be taken during the next financial year.

Quality of Life Implications
Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe Communities
Local Economy
Natural
Resource Use
Pollution
Prevention and Control
Biodiversity
and Nature
Local
Environment
Social
Inclusion
Safe, Healthy
and Active
Communities
Local
Economy
N/A
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Positive
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APPENDIX I
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

EXECUTIVE – 2ND November 2004

Title:

The Freedom of Information Act 2000

[Wards Affected: N/A]
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Summary and purpose:

The purpose of this report is to update the Executive on the progress made to date on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) and to summarise the actions that need to be taken to ensure that Waverley is prepared for January 2005 and to indicate the actions that will be taken during the next financial year.

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Quality of life implications – social, environmental & economic (sustainable development):

E-Government implications:

Along with E-Government, this is another step to make Waverley, and all public authorities, more accountable to the community. All information available on Waverley’s website should be in the Publication Scheme and an audit will take place to ensure that this is the case. As this takes place, the public will become more aware of its rights under the various information legislation.

Resource and legal implications:

The amount of time to install, implement and manage the processes should not be underestimated. Currently the preparatory work has mainly fallen within existing resources. However, there will be cost implications for setting up systems and further reports will be issued to members on the cost implications.

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Introduction and Background

1. Waverley has always had a policy for openness and accountability to the public, indeed it is one of the Council’s agreed aims. The Freedom of Information Act, together with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Environmental Information Regulations (2004) have legislated for this openness and accountability.

2. Whereas Waverley has always made every endeavour to supply the information as soon as practicable, the current legislation now places time constraints on the supply of the information requested. Information under the Freedom of Information Act must be supplied within 20 working days.

3. The Executive has endorsed the action being taken to ensure that Waverley is fully prepared to be able to make available the information that is not supplied in the normal course of business in a timely fashion and within the limits that have been prescribed.

4. Awareness by the public of their rights to information is increasing, as has the staff’s awareness of the care necessary to reply to these requests. The Information Rights Officer has seen a significant increased workload with more requests received from both members of the public and from staff.

5. Considerable work is ongoing to get the Council ready as far as possible for the implementation of the next stage of FOI. However, because of staff and other constraints, there is still a need to continue the work beyond 1st January 2005 to enable the Council to be in a position to fully integrate an Information System to ensure that the day-to-day business functions are not interrupted and efficiency can be maintained or improved. The work is being carried out in consultation with the work of the IEG Group to ensure that we also meet the requirements of electronic governance.

6. The following paragraphs summarise the work that has been carried out to date to ensure that Waverley can supply information requested (subject to any exemptions that apply) in a timely and efficient manner, and the work that will have to be carried out to complete this.

Information Audit

7. The Information Audit was completed in September 2004. It was carried out by interviewing all section heads and recording the information held both electronically and in manual files. This has been carried out to ensure that when a request for information is received, officers can react to the request and supply the information with minimum disruption of their day-to-day duties. It was also carried out to ensure that Waverley does not hold any information that is not necessary or is out of date.

Retention and Disposal Guidelines

8. The “Retention Guidelines for Local Authorities” produced by the Records Management Society of Great Britain has been used as a basic guide for Waverley’s Record Retention and Disposal Schedule. This document is currently in draft and will be compared to the results of the Information Audit to ensure that all records kept follow the agreed guidelines.

9. The Guidelines have also been produced to ensure that Waverley retains information “only for as long as is necessary” in accordance with Waverley’s Information Processing Principles which were endorsed by the Executive in September 2003. Once agreed, all departments will dispose of information held in excess of requirements.

10. One of the objectives of producing the Retention Guidelines and having carried out the Information Audit is to identify where the excess information, both manual and electronic, is being held. Having identified this, the records no longer required to carry out the Council’s business, can be disposed of. It should be pointed out that some records are required to be retained permanently and that any records that are considered being of historical interest will be offered to the Surrey History Centre.

Review of Filing Systems

11. Following the completion of the Information Audit, a review of the manual and electronic filing systems (including e-mails) within the organisation has commenced. On the completion of the review, the recommendations for the implementation of any proposed new or revised systems and any cost implications necessary to enable the Council to comply with its statutory duty and to meet its agreed objective to be open and accountable will be reported to the Executive.

Policy and Guidelines

12. A revised staff policy and guidelines for handling information is in the process of being written and a draft set of Guidelines for handling requests has been prepared and will be circulated to departmental representatives during October.

13. Training courses are also being arranged for all staff in preparation for the implementation of the new policies.

What can be expected from January 2005?

14. The public is becoming more aware of its rights and the government has promised to have an awareness campaign prior to January. This will further increase public awareness.

15. How many requests the Council will receive is an unknown quantity. Staff will be expected to log and track all requests received from the public. A request for information will not always be obvious, but that will be no excuse under the legislation. It is key that systems are in place to minimise this work for staff who already have little or no spare capacity. However, it is important to monitor the situation before the Council incurs costs. Although there are a number of recording and tracking systems available on the market, it is not intended to purchase one unless it is found that there are difficulties in maintaining the recording and tracking on a manual or relatively simple spreadsheet system.

Records Management

16. The British Standards Institute has published ISO 15489 – Information and Documentation–Records Management. The work that has been completed on records management has sought to comply with this standard, but further work which is continuing, and the work that will be carried out during the next financial year, will ensure full compliance. This will bring together the various aspects of the work that has already been carried out.

Recommendation

The Executive endorses the action that needs to be taken to ensure that Waverley continues to be open and accountable to the public.


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Background Papers (CEx)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

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CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Peter Driscoll Telephone: 01483 523477

E-mail: pdriscoll@waverley.gov.uk

Anne Bott Telephone: 01483 523415

E-mail abott@waverley.gov.uk

comms/exec/04-05/241