Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


Why don’t local authorities release more data?

One of the topics brought up in the question-and-answer session at the RSA/Free Our Data debate in July was that local authorities often don’t know what data they can make available. SA Mathieson explores the topic more widely and explains how it’s a struggle to get data out of councils.

Sample extract:

But FoI has not created consistency in what authorities will release, although it is starting to help. Last year, local authorities including London’s Westminster city council refused to release hygiene inspection reports for food outlets under FoI, while the adjacent borough of Camden was putting such information online.

In December, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which has statutory responsibility for policing FoI, ruled that Bridgend county borough council in Wales should release a report for the Heronston hotel in Bridgend. The council had refused to do so, arguing that releasing these reports to the public would undermine discussions between businesses and the council on improving hygiene, but it decided not to appeal and now releases reports on request.

The intertwining of the Freedom of Information Act and this campaign is an interesting one, and we hear that the question of to what extent information released under FoI could be reused – perhaps commercially – is being discussed seriously within government. It would stop the strange situation allued to at the RSA/FOD debate, in which councils will release some maps but have to insist that they must not be revealed to anyone else. Freed information, indeed.

You can also now get a PDF transcript of the RSA/FOD debate.

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