Stonewall affiliation

The request was refused by Cabinet Office.

Dear Cabinet Office,

Please can you

1. Confirm whether your organisation applied to be part of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index in A) 2018 (for 2019), B) 2019 (for 2020) or C) 2021 (for 2022) (NB the index was suspended in 2020/21 because of Covid)

2. Give details of the total amount of money you paid to Stonewall in 2021 whether or not as payment for goods or services.

3. State whether you intend to continue your membership of any Stonewall scheme in the future, and if so which.

If the answer to any part of 1 is yes please supply:

4. Any application you made in 2021 to be included on Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index, including any attachments or appendices to those applications. Please redact personal details if necessary.

5. Any feedback you received in 2018/19 or 2019/20 or 2021/22 from Stonewall in relation to either application or programme. This must include the priorities or objectives written by your organisation’s representative at the end of the feedback form (under the heading ‘Priorities for the year ahead’ in 2019; ‘Your priorities’ in 2020).

EXEMPTIONS?

If your organisation is considering refusing to disclose feedback received as part of the Stonewall scheme by relying on section 41 (confidential information) and/or section 43 (commercial interest) of FOI, please note the recent ICO decisions IC-129040-Y4T2 and IC-125081-Q8J6 which rejected these reasons. Sex Matters has written a short briefing on these two ICO decisions – please see www.sex-matters.org/wp-content/uploads/2...

Yours faithfully,

S Bartlett

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

Our ref: FOI2022/12293

Dear S Bartlett,

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 29th
July. Your request is being handled under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 ('the Act').

The Act requires that a response must be given promptly, and in any event
within 20 working days. We will therefore aim to reply at the latest by
30th August.

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

1 Attachment

Dear S Bartlett,

Please find attached our response to your recent Freedom of Information
request (reference FOI2022/12293).

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Dear Head of Freedom of Information, Cabinet Office

Thank you for your response. However your refusal to answer my legitimate FOI request seems likely to be a breach of ICO guidance and misapplication of the Freedom of Information Act itself.

1) Campaign.

1.1) You argue that the exemption under Section 14(1) applies because you have received a number of identical or similar requests, which you believe originate from the ‘Sex Matters website’. You conclude that this is part of a ‘campaign’ which make this request ‘vexatious’.

1.2) You will be aware that ICO guidance states that ‘authorities must be careful to differentiate cases where the requesters are abusing their information rights to engage in a campaign of disruption, and those instances where the requesters are using the Act as a channel to obtain information that will assist their campaign on an underlying issue’.

1.3) The ICO is clear that the existence of a ‘campaign’ does not automatically engage Section 14(1) as ‘campaigns are not in themselves ‘vexatious’. However in your refusal notice you first allege the existence of a campaign originating from the ‘Sex Matters website’ and conclude that ‘for these reasons’ the campaign is ‘designed to harass or disrupt’. You provide no further evidence or reasoning for why the existence of an alleged campaign makes this request vexatious. Thus, this would seem to be a clear breach of ICO guidance.

1.4) Further, the ICO states that ‘the existence of a campaign may be the result of a legitimate public concern about an issue and so reflect a weighty public interest in the disclosure of the information’. I refer you to the recent ICO decision IC-125081-Q8J6 where the Commissioner stated that ‘There is clearly a public debate as to the role and influence of Stonewall on public authorities. There is undoubtedly a great deal of public interest in this issue.’ Applying this decision would therefore suggest any alleged ‘campaign’ on the issue of Stonewall’s influence on public authorities would be a matter of public interest, supporting the disclosure of information.

2) ‘Designed to harass or disrupt’.

2.1) You argue that the alleged ‘campaign’ is ‘designed to harass or disrupt the work of the Cabinet Office’.

2.2) Again, you provide no reasoning or evidence to support this conclusion.

2.3) You will be aware that the ICO advise the key question of ‘disruption’ is whether a reasonable person would think the value and purpose of the request is enough to justify the impact on the authority. My request asks 5 questions, seeking the disclosure of a limited amount of specific information. Other public authorities (of a similar or smaller size to the Cabinet Office) have complied with similar requests without alleging they are disproportionately disruptive. Further, I refer you to point 1.4 above which shows the ICO have acknowledged there is ‘undoubtedly a great deal of public interest in this issue’ (decision IC-125081-Q8J6). Therefore, it seems likely that a reasonable person would conclude the value of this information to the public would outweigh any limited disruption to the Cabinet Office in complying with the request.

2.4) The ICO states that ‘harassment’ is indicated by repeated requests, obsessive conduct, pursuing personal grudges or using offensive language. This is the first request I have submitted to the Cabinet Office to request the disclosure of information, in the public interest. Therefore, applying ICO guidance, sending a single legitimate request to a public authority does not constitute ‘harassment’.

3) ‘Significant burden’.

3.1) You argue that this request would ‘put a significant burden on the department’.

3.2) Again, you provide no reasoning to support this conclusion.

3.3) You will be aware that the Upper Tribunal set out the factors relevant for assessing ‘burden’ in Information Commissioner vs Devon County Council & Dransfield [2012]: number, breadth, pattern and duration of previous requests. This is the first request I have submitted to the Cabinet Office, requesting a limited amount of specific information. Therefore, applying Dransfield does not support your argument of a ‘significant burden’.

3.4) As to any other similar requests you may have received from other individuals, both the ICO and the Upper Tribunal in Dransfield stated that if the public authority has failed to deal appropriately with previous requests, it mitigates against the latest request being vexatious.

3.5) You will also be aware that the ICO has stated that it is not sufficient for ‘larger public authorities’ to argue that a request is a burden due to inadequate allocation of resources. I refer you to Cabinet Office vs Information Commissioner and Ashton [2018] which found that the Cabinet Office was not entitled to rely on ‘limited resources’ as a reason to refuse a request as vexatious.

4) Section 14(1): ’vexatious’ requests.

4.1) You state that your refusal to comply with my request is based on Section 14(1) of the Act on the grounds that it is ‘vexatious’. First, as outlined in point 1 above, you have provided no reasoning or evidence to explain why the alleged ‘campaign’ makes this request ‘vexatious’. Second, as outlined in point 2 above, you have provided no reasoning or evidence to explain why the alleged ‘campaign’ is ‘designed to harass or disrupt’. Third, as outlined in point 3 above, you have provided no reasoning or evidence to explain why complying with this request would ‘put a significant burden on the Department’.

4.2) You will be aware that the ICO makes clear that engaging Section 14(1) is a ‘high hurdle’. The public authority must be able to show ‘sufficient grounds’ for refusal. Using the allegation of a ‘campaign’ as the only ground for categorising this request as ‘vexatious’ would seem to be a direct contradiction of ICO guidance, and thus an incorrect application of Section 14(1).

4.3) Further, you will know that Information Commissioner vs Devon County Council & Dransfield [2012] established the definition of ‘vexatious’ as ‘manifestly unjustified, inappropriate or improper use of a formal procedure’. You provide no reasoning or evidence to explain why my request meets this standard. This is the first FOI request I have sent to the Cabinet Office for the disclosure of a limited amount of specific information, in the public interest. This would not seem to meet the standard of ‘vexatious’.

5) Ongoing concerns about the Cabinet Office’s handling of FOI requests.

5.1) Earlier this year the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee completed an investigation into the Cabinet Office’s handling of FOI requests. This followed a judgment by a First Tier Tribunal citing a ‘profound lack of transparency’ in the Cabinet Office’s handling of FOI requests. The committee’s findings included evidence of ‘poor FOI administration’ which is ‘inconsistent with the spirit and principles of the FOI Act’ and that the Cabinet Office ‘granted fewer FOI requests and withheld more information than other Departments’.

5.2) The committee further advised the Cabinet Office to agree to an external audit into its handling of FOI requests, but you instead opted for an internal review conducted by Sue Langley which was published in August this year. This review found ‘concern’ about the use of ‘Round Robin’ lists which ‘appear to not align fully with the spirit of relevant legislation’. The review instead advised any such lists should be used for ‘uncommon, complex and national security related FOI Cases only’. In response to the report, the Cabinet Office stated it has ‘listened to these concerns’ and would redesign the process to ‘build in transparency’.

I am therefore requesting that the Cabinet Office conduct an internal review of its refusal to consider my request. I would also draw your attention to ICO guidance on Section 14(1) which advises public authorities to ‘recognise the importance of the internal review stage’ as the ‘last remaining opportunity to thoroughly re-evaluate, and, if appropriate, reverse the decision without the involvement of the ICO’.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/s...

Yours faithfully,

S Bartlett

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

1 Attachment

Dear S Bartlett,

Please find attached our response to your request for an Internal Review
(reference IR2022/14604).

Yours sincerely,

FOI Team

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

1 Attachment

Dear S Bartlett,

Please find attached our response to your request for an Internal Review
(reference IR2022/14604).

Our apologies for sending this response again. A formatting error found in
the IR response sent to you a few moments ago.

Yours sincerely,

FOI Team