Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from the Association of Colleges

I am writing in relation to the Justice Committee’s inquiry into the Freedom of Information Act. I realise the deadline for receipt of written evidence has passed but I wanted to alert you to the concerns of my members: England’s Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges.

I have received a number of concerns that both the number of requests under the Freedom of Information Act, and the volume of information requested in such requests, has increased significantly in recent months.

Of course, as publicly funded institutions colleges accept that they need to be publically accountable. However, colleges are increasingly concerned that FoI requests are resulting in college staff spending many hours finding the desired information. This is time which is spent away from the core college business of providing education and training for the local community.

For example, a member of staff at a college in the West Midlands estimates that in the past month she has spent the following time on FoI requests:

A specific request from Unison which was sent to all colleges asking for details of staff pay.

Four commercial requests.

Two private emailed requests.

In relation to commercial requests, an example might be companies asking for IT maintenance contracts, who the college uses, how much they pay and when the contract is due for renewal.

Colleges would normally use public tendering portals when they renew suppliers and therefore having to respond to such requests is not an effective use of their time.

Prepared 25th July 2012