Role of press/external affairs team in drafting WDTK responses

J Roberts made this Freedom of Information request to Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

This request has been closed to new correspondence. Contact us if you think it should be reopened.

The request was partially successful.

Dear Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman,

The following statement was written by the Head of Freedom of Information/Data Protection in respect of FOI requests made through the 'whatdotheyknow' website:

“4.2.6 The risks associated with putting information in this forum have been mitigated by involving the press/external affairs team as appropriate in drafting the responses.”

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/2...

1. Please confirm the total number of responses to FOI requests made through 'whatdotheyknow' that have been drafted by the press/external affairs team. Please provide the figures by month and year.

2. Please provide details of any budgetary arrangements that have been put in place to take account of the new FOI role of the press/external affairs team.

3. Please provide the information used by the FOI team to decide whether to pass a 'whatdotheyknow' request to the the press/external affairs team to deal with.

4. Please clarify the nature of the risks referred to.

Yours faithfully,

J Roberts

foiofficer@ombudsman.org.uk, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman


Thank you for your e-mail to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. This return e-mail shows that we have received your correspondence.

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[Name Removed] (Account suspended) left an annotation ()

I am wondering whether or not WDTK should change the PHSO's receiving address to the External Affairs department.

Because the PHSO is not even bothering to disguise PR response letters to FOIA requests any more.

And not responding with data.

Perhaps the requests should go straight to the External Affairs department instead?

It would cut out the FOIA department - but as Mick Martin wouldn't t state whether redundancies wouid be ruled out at PACAC - so it may be something he has in mind to include in £1.8 PR budget.

J Roberts left an annotation ()

JT Oakley,

It was something you wrote that alerted me to this new development - responses to requests made through WDTK being drafted by the press/external affairs team and not by the FOI team. It means that any request for information about the budget and size of the FOI team could be misleading, as it would exclude the figures that relate to the press/external affairs team.

[Name Removed] (Account suspended) left an annotation ()

External Affairs wouid take a big risk in manufacturing false statistics, in that the information can be requested by Parliament.

If it was found to be doing so, PACAC wouid consider it a series breach,...as it has done with the PHSO's current overspending.

In my opinion, it would not be worth it- because of the risk that the ombudsman's reputation wouid be seriously dented in front of the committee, which holds its purse strings

::::

The external team's spin work can be seen when FOIA reponses are explanations saying more or less 'how Great the PHSO's Delivery is' etc...the usual business spin.

But these unrequested 'explanations' now seem to be 'instead of' the file documents demand by a FOIA request - which is concerned with data - files. Which is annoying - in that there wouid automatically be reviews, with the consequent waste of time and money.

There has been disquiet about this now external affairs controlled process in evidence to PACAC- from the public:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/commit...

;:::::

It is my opinion that the FOIA department should be entirely seperate - to maintain its integrity.

And the integrity of the PHSO.

Seemingly it doesn't have enough internal clout not to let External Affairs fiddle around with its legally due responses.

But that maybe be a decision which might have been made further up the PHSO organisational ladder than the Head of FOIA.

E. Colville left an annotation ()

JT,

The link you provided http://www.parliament.uk/business/commit... shows that the last evidence submissions "ordered to be published" by PACAC on 12 January 2016 were six supplementary Memoranda from PHSO (references 60 - 65).

I find this a remarkable feat.

First. The scrutiny session with the Ombudsman and her Deputy of the same date did not end until 12 noon.

Second. The 6 Memoranda address and provide answers to specific questions PASC raised at the scrutiny session.

Third. PHSO seem to have worked at extraordinary speed to find the information, analyse it, produce draft responses, conduct reviews of each darft at the appropriate levels, received clearance from Legal, External Affairs and any others (Head of Governance and Risk Management) and finally signature approval from the Ombudsman subsequent to which they were dispatch at haste to PACAC the same afternoon.

Fourth: From a procedural standpoint PACAC must evidently have reconvened the Committee late in the afternoon of 12 January 2016, or at least the necessary quorum of Members in order to consider the six suppelmentary Memoranda, agree them whereafter they ordered them to be published the same day.

Altogether extraordinary.

E. Colville left an annotation ()

Left wondering what were the 28 missing submissions PACAC chose not to publish?

Deduced from the fact there are "37 items" published from a sequence I- 65.

http://www.parliament.uk/business/commit...

E. Colville left an annotation ()

CORRECTION:

The record shows that PACAC ordered to be published on 12/1/2016 not 6 but 7 detailed supplementary evidence submissions (PAR 59-65) purporting to be the same day response from PHSO to the questions PACAC asked of the Ombudsman and her Deputy at the AM oral evidence session.

http://www.parliament.uk/business/commit...

foiofficer, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Dear J Roberts

 

Your information request – our reference: FDN 244904

 

I am writing in response to your freedom of information request dated 11
January 2016 in which you asked:

 

“The following statement was written by the Head of Freedom of
Information/Data Protection in respect of FOI requests made through the
'whatdotheyknow' website:

 

4.2.6 The risks associated with putting information in this forum have
been mitigated by involving the press/external affairs team as appropriate
in drafting the responses.

 

[1]https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/2...
    

1. Please confirm the total number of responses to FOI requests made
through 'whatdotheyknow' that have been drafted by the press/external
affairs team. Please provide the figures by month and year.
    

2. Please provide details of any budgetary arrangements that have been put
in place to take account of the new FOI role of the press/external affairs
team.

 

3. Please provide the information used by the FOI team to decide whether
to pass a 'whatdotheyknow' request to the the press/external affairs team
to deal with.

 

4. Please clarify the nature of the risks referred to.”

 

In line with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, I can confirm we do not
hold information relating to questions 1, 2 and 3 of your request. In
relation to question 4, again we do not hold recorded information, and as
you may be aware under the freedom of information legislation we are not
required to create information to answer your request.
    

I can confirm that at PHSO all our FOI requests are drafted and responded
to centrally by the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Team. In
order to ensure the accuracy of the information being released we will
closely liaise with the staff/team holding the requested information. We
will also involve our Executive Team and Press Office where the
information request is from a Member of Parliament or is of media
interest.

 

I hope my response is helpful.

 

Yours sincerely

 

 

 

Sohifa Kadir

FOI/DP Officer

 

 

References

Visible links
1. https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/2...

[Name Removed] (Account suspended) left an annotation ()

I can confirm that at PHSO all our FOI requests are drafted and responded
to centrally by the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Team. In
order to ensure the accuracy of the information being released we will
closely liaise with the staff/team holding the requested information. We
will also involve our Executive Team and Press Office where the
information request is from a Member of Parliament or is of media
interest.

::::

So the FOIA team are now deciding whether the media will be interested in an FOIA request...

I wonder what criteria is being used to decide media interest in FOIA data - which must be produced under a legal Act?

The accuracy - or not - is in the file , which must be produced to comply with the Act.

Not edited highlights of a file merely for reputational defence.

Is the press office now deciding what data may be released - or not..owing to its potential embarrassment factor to the PHSO?

Because it very much looks like the case - in that recent responses to FOIA's have comprised of letters - rather than file data.

And when file data is well defined by a FOIA request, the reponse has been not to give S 16 help and assistance - to narrow the request, which is the ICO guidance requirement.

(NB And which the court I attended was particularly interested to note in that the request under discussion had not received any 'help and assistance' to define the request - and logged it as a PHSO service failure ).

The PHSO now seems intent on stating either that the requested data doesn't exist, or that it is too much work to find.

:::

I wonder how many FOIA requests were made in the past year?

How many were passed to the External Affairs & Stratgy department?

Which ones they were?

The criteria that FOIA team decided to pass to External affairs on the grounds that it spot a request with 'media interest'?

And which were edited, written, or rewritten by this department?

What the changes were? And why?

::

The FOIAct defines data on file as a response to a request, not edited data due to 'potential media interest ', or pro reputational letter responses.

Although added letter responses can be helpful and interesting. - They cannot replace the requested data.

And there is one point that shows that the PHSO is being less than open and transparent by just quoting a few statistics, rather than supplying the files.

Clearly if these statistical letter responses are true, then they must depend on file data which must exist - but has been withheld, with no explanation as to why.

J Roberts left an annotation ()

The beefed-up role of External Affairs and Strategy might explain why the way of showing 'positive feedback' has been changed to stand out in a recent response:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/3...

The new method of presentation, however, does not alter the fact that 'positive feedback' correspondence fell from 176 in the first half of the calendar year to to 112 in the second (36%). But what sort of thing is recorded as positive feedback? One example:

'I am just writing to say thank you about my complaint. I took your advice and wrote a letter of complaint. So I am very happy about that and just wish to say thank you.'

Here is one member of staff's response to a request from a senior employee about the importance of recording positive feedback:

'Does it count if we get thanked during a phone call? We could write down anything in our note of the call and most people thank us for talking to them. However, I’ve just dealt with a follow up email from a complainant ...At the end of the call she said Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to phone me (honestly!).'

S/he said 'WE COULD WRITE DOWN ANYTHING '

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/p...