Police ticked off for “catalogue of failings”Posted on April 8th, 2009 No comments
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has received a public rebuke for what is described as a “catalogue of failings” in the way it deals with internal reviews.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has taken the unusual step of issuing a practice direction against the police force ordering it to sharpen up its act.
Details of the problems within the GMP’s Freedom of Information team are revealed in the ICO’s statement (link) in which the police blame lack of manpower, incorrect inputting, staff sickness, moving office and computer problems on its failure to stick to guidelines for dealing with internal appeals.
An internal appeal should be completed in 20 days although in exceptional circumstances this time period can be extended to 40 days.
The statement from the ICO shows that concerns about GMP first surfaced in November 2007 and despite repeated letters and e-mails asking for explanations the police failed to improve.
Indeed on several occasions GMP failed to stick to deadlines imposed by the ICO to explain why things were going wrong within its department.
The GMP also provided a table to the ICO showing the number of internal appeals and how long they had taken to be considered – when this table was scrutinised it was found that one long-standing appeal was missing and others were miscalculated to the extent that the ICO had to go back and work out all the dates again.
The ICO was called in after a complaint from somebody who had to wait 150 working days for an internal appeal to be considered, but when other cases were examined one appeal had taken more than a year to resolve.
A table of data provided to the ICO showing how long GMP took to deal with internal appeals made a number of mistakes in calculating the number of working days – the ICO described these mistakes as “endemic”.
It also appeared that some appeals were given due dates of more than 250 working days and more than 500 working days due to mistakes when inputting the dates.
At the time of issuing the direction against GMP it was found it had three overdue internal appeals that had been in the system for 51, 64 and 287 days each.
The Information Commissioner also reminded GMP that it was good practice to apologise to people if its service didn’t come up to shape.
GMP has said it is trying to tackle the problems now by:
- Restructuring its FoI team into an Information Governance Unit
- Increased staff training, and
- Bringing in four and half new employees to the team.
In addition the ICO seemed particularly annoyed that GMP repeatedly either ignored its communication or responded late.
It states: “The authority’s repeated and prolonged delays in responding to his enquiries have significantly contributed to the need for this practice recommendation. He would like to make clear to GMP and to other public authorities reading this recommendation that informal resolution of compliance or conformity issues cannot be pursued indefinitely and that more formal action will be taken where there is evidence of a lack of progress, commitment, a failure to engage or any combination of these.”
Click (here) for the full practice recommendation.
Editor’s note: It is good to see the ICO taking action against those authorities that for whatever reason are failing to keep up with their duties under FoI. If there were no sanctions against those who are falling behind there would be no incentive for other authorities to do things properly.
Unfortunately it would appear that GMP suffered from a severe lack of resources and perhaps the ICO’s intervention may mean that FoI is afforded more importance by the powers that be at GMP.
The real culprits in this case – as is always the case – are not the beleaguered foot soldiers but those in more executive positions who had underfunded the department. Having said all that it must be annoying to be given a dressing down by the ICO, when it is the ICO who is by far the worst offender on this issue.
My appeals to the ICO seem to take around two years from start to finish which makes GMP look like Speedy Gonzales.
What do you think of this issue? Should the ICO be taking a firm approach? Or is it a case of “Do as I say, not as I do”?
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