Written evidence from Information Commissioner's
I am writing to correct certain erroneous statements
that were made about the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)
in evidence before your Committee on 23 November. The uncorrected
minutes of that session have just been posted on the Parliament
Questions 270-276 deal with the appropriateness
or otherwise of tax-payer funded lobbying activity undertaken
by "quangos". The exchanges covered the engagement of
public affairs consultants, exhibiting at party conferences, and
other conflicts of interest.
At Question 277, Robert Halfon MP asked a question
of the witness from the Taxpayers' Alliance that was based on
a false premise and included misleading information. I quote the
question and subsequent exchanges:
Q277 Robert Halfon: Just to give another example,
the Information Commission, which has come under fire in recent
weeks for lack of doing what it is supposed to do, has, it emerged
through a written question that I tabled, spent between £10
million and £13 million on PR and internal communications
over the last few years. Do you think that is an abuse of taxpayers'
Matthew Sinclair: I think a substantial portion
of that will have been an abuse of taxpayers' money. There is
a need to maintain communications within staff; if that is running
a corporate intranet and things like that, it is part of running
an organisation, but I would expect that a substantial portion
of that is being spent on PR and publicity, and is illegitimate
and is an abuse of taxpayers' money.
Q278 Robert Halfon: Do you think that it should
be banned completely?
Matthew Sinclair: I think that is harder to ban.
With external PR, you have a clear, identifiable amount and you
have expense on political consultancies. Internally it is harder
to police, but that obviously doesn't mean that it can be neglected,
because otherwise you just encourage people to bring this in-house.
I think that will be a matter for proper monitoring through spending
and HR transparency, and trying to stop it. I am not sure how
one would do that.
Q279 Chair: Perhaps use of the Civil Service
The ICO is by no means an "example"
of a public body engaging in lobbying, hiring public affairs consultants,
exhibiting at party conferences, nor do we have any conflicts
of interest. We do none of these things.
It is also wrong to say that the ICO has spent
£10-13 million on PR and internal communications in "recent
years". In fact, the figure reflects the ICO's total spend
on communications activities over 10 yearsincluding the
launch of the ICO itself and the implementation of the two Acts
of Parliament it enforces.
As Information Commissioner, I have statutory
duties under the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts
to communicate to organisations and members of the public. Both
Acts require me to promote good practice to organisations, disseminate
information to the public and to report annually to Parliament.
I am also obliged to raise awareness among organisations such
as trade bodies, businesses and public authorities. Under the
Data Protection Act I also have an obligation to produce codes
The ICO's Corporate Plan clearly states that
our role is a dual one of education and enforcement, and that
education is the most prominent of the two roles.
Given these facts, it can hardly be a matter
of surprise that we spend a proportion of our budget on communications
activities such as providing guidance on our website, producing
reports and publishing statutory codes of practice, as well as
Commenting on a supposed communications spend
of £10-13 million "over the last few years", the
witness said "I would expect that a substantial portion of
that is being spent on PR and publicity." This assumption
I strongly refute the suggestion that the ICO's
communications activity is a waste of taxpayers' money. Our services
are in demand and the demand is growing as privacy and transparency
rise high on the public agenda.
Please take this as a formal submission to your
Committee, to be published in due course, I would hope, alongside
the transcript of evidence. I would be happy to provide further
information to the Committee should that be required.
Letter from the Chair of PASC to the Information
Thank you for your letter of 29 November expressing
your concern about our evidence session of 23 November relating
to the question asked by Mr Halfon about the Information Commissioner's
Office expenditure on "PR and internal communications over
the last few years." I should stress that the members of
a select committee are responsible for their own questions. You
may therefore wish to approach Mr Halfon directly about your
The Committee seeks to be fair and accurate in pursuing
its inquiries. You have asked that your letter is taken as a formal
submission in our Inquiry and I am happy to propose this to the
Committee. If approved, the Clerk will arrange for it to be published
alongside the rest of our evidence on this inquiry.
In the meantime, it would help the Committee
if you could provide us with more detail about the spending at
issue. I suggest that you provide us with a breakdown of the actual
expenditure over the period (or if this is going back too far,
then I suggest that you provide information over, say, the past
five years) which could demonstrate a full and fair representation
of the facts. I would be happy to put this to the Committee as
You may wish to be aware that, in due course,
the Committee will also be considering the government's "transparency"
agenda as part of our scrutiny on good governance. Your views
on that and related matters will be very helpful. Such an evidence
session could also provide the Committee with the opportunity
to clarify issues such as this one.
I am grateful for your drawing your concerns
to my attention.
Response from the Information Commissioner's Office
to the Chair of PASC
Many thanks for your letter of 1 December. In
response to your suggestion of further and better particulars
about the ICO's spend on communications activities and in addition
to the answer given in Parliament by Mr Djanogly on Monday 8 November,
I will be able to provide a full analysis of the annual totals
for the last six years and will forward this to you on Monday
on my return from Brussels. Detailed information for the years
prior to that period is no longer available. It is our practice
to retain detailed information for the last year and the five
years previous to that.
I hope the Committee will find this helpful.
Parliamentary written question tabled on 6 December
2010 by Robert Halfon MP
Robert Halfon: To ask the Secretary of
State for Justice pursuant to the answer of 8 November 2010, Official
Report, columns 59-60W, on departmental communications, if he
will publish an itemised account of the amount spent by the Information
Commissioner's Office on (a) internal and (b) external communications
in each year from 2000-01 to 2009-10. 
Mr Djanogly: The following table provides
an itemised account of spending by the Information Commissioner's
Office (ICO) on internal and external communications where information
is available. Detailed information on expenditure is retained
for six years. Therefore no figures are available before 2004-05.
The figures provided are based on actual invoices.
Therefore they vary slightly from those given in the answer of
8 November 2010 which were based on the ICO's annual accounts,
which are accruals rather than cash based. They do however reconcile.
This information has been provided by the ICO.
ICO EXPENDITURE ON INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL
|| 2006-07|| 2005-06
|| 46,667.04|| 39,240.22
|| 35,198.62|| 27,510.74|| 34,917.04
|| 73,322.35|| 163,727.44
|| (1) |
|Media monitoring and press cuttings|| 24,697.73
|| 28,243.96|| 53,048.77
|| 39,607.04|| 32,575.37|| 26,822.89
|| 8,448.10|| 48,884.72|| 211.50
|| 44,206.57|| 195,703.38
|Conferences and seminars|| 74,397.59
|| 70,093.91|| 36,102.48
|| 24,774.25|| 86,647.06|| 31,915.58
|Design and print|| 258,210.13
|| 74,884.66|| 160,278.55
|| 428,274.38|| 311,252.10|| 197,137.43
|| 135,313.21|| 140,680.08|| 106,485.05
|| 78,617.80|| 50,306.88
|Management fees (2) || 385,465.71
|| 347,184.28|| 339,218.93
|| 341,473.39|| 282,533.58|| 146,507.47
|Online|| 220,059.42|| 245,837.90
|| 271,303.94|| 434,735.87
|| 236,190.32|| 196,223.54|
|Research|| 76,522.16|| 140,145.05
|| 283,585.60|| 256,183.13
|| 278,625.42|| 187,664.10|
|Internal communications|| 11,582.91
|| 12,323.06|| 36,999.21
|| 20,334.86|| (3) || (3)
|| 1,473,349.6|| 1,482,664.8
|| 1,851,005.5|| 1,355,222.0|| 1,067,198.3
(1) Represents a refund for a cancelled campaign.
(2) Fees paid to professional partners and consultants, eg for running the ICO Press Office (in-house from 1 October 2010); and also to the Central Office of Information.
(3) Not available. There was minimal expenditure on internal communications during 2005-06 and 2004-05 and what expenditure there was cannot be individually identified.
Official Report col 494W 13 December 2010