Evaluating the Impact of FOI on Local Government
August 2009 - November 2011
Original research application
Abstract: FOI and Local Government in England
This will be the first systematic study of the objectives, benefits and consequences of FOI and English local government. The study will evaluate the impact of the legislation by speaking to selected officials who work with it across 15 different local authorities and conducting a survey of FOI officers in local authorities across England. The project will also survey requesters who use FOI and interview local journalists and analyse media articles that report FOI.
Local government in Britain has been a focus of more than two thirds of all FOI requests.Understanding the impact of FOI on local government is central to a wider understanding of how the Act is working.
We will seek to measure FOI against the objectives set for it, asking whether FOI has made local government more transparent, more accountable and improved decision-making. We will also seek to measure whether FOI has increased public understanding, participation and trust in local government.
Local government in Britain has been the subject of wide-ranging reform during the past decade. The study will also examine how FOI has interacted with the new reformed model of local government. It will seek to measure how FOI has impacted upon local political leadership, local accountability, partnership working and local service provision.
- This project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council: RES-062-23-1748
- This project is led by Dr Ben Worthy with support from Jim Amos and Gabrielle Bourke
End of Award Report
- Read the full end of award report to the ESRC
Results and findings
- Town Hall transparency? The Impact of the Freedom of Information Act on English Local Government. Final Report. Ben Worthy, Jim Amos, Robert Hazell and Gabrielle Bourke, December 2011, pdf.
- Preliminary findings from the project, October 2010
- '£500 disclosure rule fails to staunch FoI requests', by Michael Cross, writing in UKAuthorITy, 10 Jan 2012
- 'What Impact Has FoI Had on Local Democracy?', by Jonathan Carr-West, writing on the Huffington Post, 16 December 2011
- 'FOI boosts local government transparency but yet to affect leadership: UCL', by Philip Hoult, writing in the Local Government Lawyer, 14 December 2011
- 'The need to know', in Britain in 2012: Annual Magazine of the Economic and Social Research Council, Dec 2011
- 'Councils answer more information requests at lower cost', Open Secrets (Martin Rosenbaum's blog) BBC, 10 Nov 2011.
- 'The agenda: FOI and transparency', by Jim Daunton, in Local Government Chronicle, 20 Jan 2011
- 'Councils find FOI a pain - but they have the cure', in Tony Collins' blog, ComputerWorld UK, 24 January 2011
- 'FOI requests to English councils rose by 39% in 2009, researchers find,' in Local Government Lawyer, 21 January 2011
- 'Going up? Local government in England has been the focus of more than two-thirds of all Freedom of Information requests since 2005', in Local Government Chronicle, 16 September 2010
- Ben Worthy on BBC Radio 4's PM programme, at 44m 02 sec (02.09.10) - Chris Vallance's story on FOI begins at 41m 45sec
- Ben Worthy on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme at 11min 22 sec (07.09.2010)
- CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) Newsletter, March 2010
- Paper presented at the First Global Conference on Transparency Research, Rutgers University, New Jersey, May 2011
We have presented to a number of specialist FOI and Local Government groups, including:
- London FOI Officers Group, Dec 2009 (London)
- National Association of Data Protection Officers (NAPDO), 11 Nov 2009 (London)
- Modernising Government, 11 Nov 2009 (London)
- Democracy for Peace, 29 Jan 2010 (London)
- FOI Midlands Group, 15 Feb 2010 (Leicester)
- FOI North West Group, 18 Feb 2010 (Blackburn)
- FOI South West Group, 10 March 2010 (Taunton)
- FOI AGMA (Greater Manchester) group, 15 April 2010 (Stockport)
- Constitution Unit FOI Seminar Series, 26 Oct 2010 (London)
- Modernising Government, 24 Nov 2010 (London)
- National Association of Data Protection Officers (NAPDO), 10 Nov 2010 (London)
- Holyrood's Eighth Annual FOI Conference, 15 December 2010 (Edinburgh)
- South East Monitoring Officers group, 11 Feb 2011
- FOI AGMA (Greater Manchester) group, 7 April 2011 (Manchester)
- Local Government Information Network, 9 November 2011 (London)
- Commonwealth Parliamentary Association - presentation for visiting Mozambique MPs, 15 Nov 2011 (London)
For FOI officials and requesters
Every year the Constitution Unit has conducted surveys of local government officials who work in Freedom of Information. Many thanks to the 104 FOI officers who responded to our latest survey which covers the year 2010. The reports from this survey are available to download here:
FOIA 2000 and local government in 2010: The experience of local authorities in England (November 2011 - corrected version)
FOI and Local Government: surveys by the Constitution Unit covering the six years from 2005 to 2010 (November 2011)
This year's survey report finds:
- The number of requests made to English local councils has increased by 20 per cent from 2009 to 2010.
- We estimate that 197,773 requests were made to English local councils in 2010, at a total cost of £31.6 million (averaging £159.80 per request).
- There are big differences in request volumes depending on council type: District councils receive only a third of the volume of requests that county councils and London boroughs receive.
- There are wide differences in some compliance indicators among council types: rates of fully disclosing information, withholding information, and hours taken to process requests differ markedly.
- All council types improved their performance in answering requests on time.
Please note: the corrected version of the survey updates data in tables 12, 13, 15, 16, where originally the incorrect number of requests received by metropolitan and unitary councils was displayed. The percentage columns were correct however and our findings have not changed. We apologise for this error.
Survey reports from previous Years
- FOI Fifth Year Report, covering the year 2009 (Constitution Unit, December 2010)
- FOI The First Five Years Summary, covering the years 2005-2009 (Constitution Unit, December 2010)
- FOI Fourth Year Report, covering the year 2008 (Constitution Unit, December 2009)
- FOI The First Four Years Summary, covering the years 2005-2008 (Constitution Unit, December 2009)
- FOI Third Year Report, covering the year 2007 (Constitution Unit, September 2008)
- FOI Second Year Report, covering the year 2006 (Constitution Unit, September 2007)
- FOI First Year Report, covering the year 2005 (Constitution Unit, September 2006)
- FOI Six Month Survey Report, covering Jan-June 2005 (IDeA, 2005)
Have you made a Freedom of Information request to a local authority in England? We are currently undertaking a study of the impact of FOI upon English local government, and an important part of the evaluation process is gathering the
experiences and opinions of FOI requesters. Any information
explained in the survey.