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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 30/09/2003
The Freedom of Information Act



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 full implementation by January 2005.

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
N/A
N/A
N/A
Positive
Positive
N/A



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 their 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 falls within existing resources. However, there will be cost implications for setting up systems and a further report will be issued to members on the cost implications.
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Background

1. The introduction by the Government of the Freedom of Information Act has extended the rights of the public to access the majority of recorded information held by public authorities. The first stage of implementation is complete – Waverley’s Publication Scheme was approved by the Information Commissioner in November 2002 and was in place by February 2003. The Scheme is available on the Web and in hard copy format.

2. Waverley is working with Surrey County Council and other Surrey Boroughs and Districts in creating policy documents and to have a coordinated approach to the full implementation of the Act.

3. Under the Act, the public will have the right to access the majority of information held by Waverley. The right to information is retrospective and the requestor must be informed in writing whether Waverley holds the information, and if the information is held, subject to any exemptions, be supplied with a copy of the information within 20 working days of receiving the formal request (which may include a payment for the information).

4. To enable the Council to meet this tight deadline, it is crucial that the Council knows what information is held both in manual form and on computer. This will include any “emails” and “Microsoft Office” documents, and information contained in unstructured manual filing systems as well as structured filing systems.

Records Management Policy

5. The Surrey DP/FOI Group has developed a Draft Records Management Policy. A draft Policy for Waverley is currently being finalised and will be available in the near future should any member require a copy.

Retention and Disposal Guidelines

6. The Records Management Society of Great Britain has issued a publication “Retention Guidelines for Local Authorities”. It is proposed to use this publication as a basis for Waverley’s Guidelines, editing the contents where necessary in order to have a document that contains guidelines for all types of recorded information held by Waverley. This will take place both prior to and during the Information Audit.

Information Audit

7. As part of the preparation for full implementation of the Act, it is proposed to commence an Information Audit in order to establish the extent of the information currently stored both manually and on computer. During this task, the Retention Guidelines will be used to establish:

8. Notwithstanding Freedom of Information, it is also a requirement of the Data Protection Act that “Personal data ……shall be kept for no longer than is necessary”.

9. The Data Protection Principles are as equally important to non-personal information as they are to personal data, and the ethos of these principles should be applied to the way in which Waverley utilises all information in its possession (Annexe 1).

10. The starting point for the Information Audit will be to provide each department with a schedule that will include those items contained in the already agreed Publication Scheme. Departmental representatives will then complete the schedules for their departments to include all information that they currently hold (including that which is archived) so that across the Council, there will be a complete definitive record of all information held by Waverley which can be easily accessed.
Structured Filing Systems

11. The completion of the Information Audit (as set out above) is the first stage towards complying with the statutory requirements by January 2005. In addition, in order that e-mails etc. which are currently retained in individuals’ areas on the Network are readily available should an enquiry be made under the Act (or as a request under the Data Protection Act or the Crime and Disorder Act), there will be a need to set up an Electronic Record Management System [ERMS]. This will ensure that such documents can be easily accessed within the prescribed time limits.

Conclusion

12. To ensure that Waverley is fully prepared to meet its statutory obligations under the Freedom of Information legislation, it will need by mid 2004, to have in place:-

A Records Management Policy;
Corporate filing and Electronic Records Management Systems; and
Policies such as records retention, disposal and security policies and Access to Information procedures.

Recommendation

That the Executive endorses the action that needs to be taken to ensure that Waverley complies with the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

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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

comms/executive/2003-04/255 38013