Harrow to make all data public in FOI revolution

Harrow Council legal head Hugh Peart is considering plans to revolutionise the way the authority ­discloses data under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).

Peart wants the authority to begin publishing all information that would be disclosed under an FOI request on the council’s website, with the move having gained backing from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The act requires all public authorities to have mandatory publication schemes in place, but the level of information they publish varies depending on the council.

Harrow has seen a 160 per cent increase in the number of FOI requests over the past two years, and Peart believes the move would almost eliminate the cost burden of dealing with FOI requests.

It is estimated that local authorities collectively spend £34m handling requests each year.

“The default model for most councils is that we won’t give anything away unless we have to,” said Peart. “I want to turn the whole edifice on its head. I want us to move away from the defensive position of keeping everything to ­ourselves. I want to say that everything’s public except for a few obvious areas.”

ICO policy delivery chief Steve Wood said he ­supports the idea, but warned of potential data privacy breaches.

He told The Lawyer: “Harrow Council is an exciting example of a public authority showing what you can do when you think of the FOI as an opportunity, not a burden.”