I made a couple of Freedom Of Information requests towards the end of last year, using What Do They Know.
My first request asked?Staffordshire and West Midlands Probation Trust for
any reports you have created or commissioned?measuring the effectiveness of programmes you support to reduce?re-offending
They very helpfully responded by placing a number of reports on their website and sending me the link to the page. There are some useful and intriguing reports on there. The reoffending analysis on the Anawin Project, who support “vulnerable women” ?in Balsall Heath is particularly impressive, showing a statistically significant impact on reducing re-offending rates.
However, my second request for individual organisations’ data behind Arts Council England‘s
Regularly Funded Organisations: key data from the 2011/12?annual submission report
has been refused. This data provides information on the benefits brought through millions of pounds of funding to arts and cultural organisations around the country. It’s money that is derived through taxation and so I was a bit surprised when my request was refused, although?Arts Council England were able to provide me with a list of the organisations that either didn’t complete their return, or sent it in late.
I asked for an internal review and although the reasoning was amended, the original refusal has been upheld.
I’m now going to try and summarise why I think my request was refused. I don’t have a legal background so some of this might be a bit loosely described..
The annual return statistics are collected by Arts Council England (ACE) and used to produce their official national statistics figures. This is where it all appears to get a bit sticky as ACE have told me that private information, (including information from corporate bodies) [my emphasis] is confidential and should be used for statistical purposes only. And that was why my initial request was refused.
The reason why I asked for an Internal Review was because I saw a response that ACE made to a request for “attendance numbers for English?National Ballet performances“. I figured that if they were turning my general request down, but answering that very specific one there might be some middle ground, a subset of my original request, that ACE would respond to. In asking for the internal review I wrote
“I would like some advice and?assistance on what data you are able to release from the annual?return that regularly funded organisations make”
I don’t think I got any advice and assistance back from ACE. Instead they responded with the results of their internal review. Firstly, they stated that they weren’t going to make any comparisons with the English National Ballet request that they had answered. They then said that although they had applied the wrong reason for refusing my initial request they were still going to refuse to answer and?explained the reason why they were now correctly refusing it.?It still seems to hinge on organisations being given confidentiality when replying to requests that will form?official national statistics figures.
My head hurts.
It does seem wrong to me that data is held to be confidential in this way. It doesn’t help ACE to be more transparent and accountable, which is something I believe they aim for. If the legal advice ACE have been given is right then I can hardly blame them for correctly interpreting the law. It would have been nice if they’d given me the advice and assistance I asked for though.
If I want to take this any further the I believe that the next step is?to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a?decision and I’m considering that at the moment. If anybody can offer any advice on the responses I’ve had and whether it’s worth pursuing I’d be very grateful.