Written evidence from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) also revealed that there are significantly more complaints made about the Cabinet Office – which is in charge of FOI policy – than any other central government department.
The ICO wrote that the “quality and accuracy of some request responses provided by the Cabinet Office remains unsatisfactory”, adding that it “remains concerned by the length of time taken by the Cabinet Office to provide a request response in some cases”.
Last month, openDemocracy revealed that 2020 was the worst on record for government secrecy, with just 41% of FOI requests sent to government departments and agencies in full. openDemocracy’s ‘Access Denied report’ found that some government departments have far lower FOI disclosure rates than others, with the Cabinet Office among the worst offenders.
In October, it was also revealed that the Cabinet Office is conducting its own internal review after blocking the offer of an external audit by the ICO.
‘Frustrated and disappointed’
Denham, who is set to leave her role next week, told MPs she was “frustrated and disappointed that the Cabinet Office turned us down with that offer”.
During the parliamentary inquiry, Denham revealed how the relationship between the ICO and the Cabinet Office had become “less frosty” in the past year, and so she “was quite surprised when our offer of conducting an audit was turned down”.
Denham also claimed that the Cabinet Office was “dismissive” of recommendations made in the ICO’s 2019 ‘Outsourcing Oversight’ report, which called for the FOI Act to be extended to private companies delivering public services. Denham said that she thought her last meeting with a Cabinet Office minister had been in 2018, adding: “I can say that I’ve had many, many meetings with ministers in other departments.”
Conservative MP David Davis also provided evidence to the PACAC inquiry, charting his difficulties in accessing information from the department. “The Cabinet Office has acted entirely improperly. Their wrongful application of exemptions has prevented Parliament and MPs from properly fulfilling their role as elected representatives of the people.”