That consultation on small print: latest news (none)

small print
Rob Waller

Today The Times reports:

'Tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been squandered by the government on public consultations that have come to nothing, The Times can reveal..

Ministers have commissioned more than 1, 600 since the Conservative Party’s victory at the 2015 election, an average of more than two every working day. More than 500, almost a third, have not been completed, with officials saying that they are still “analysing feedback”. These include at least 202 consultations started more than two years ago.'

I'm not surprised – nearly two years ago we took part in a government consultation on small print. In July last year I prodded the relevant department, who replied in the manner of those phone queue messages that reassure that 'your call is important to us...'.

I can actually report a little more now, because I put in a Freedom of Information Act request, as follows:

'It is now an exceptionally long time since responses to the call for evidence on Improving Terms and Conditions were collected in April 2016. I am therefore making a Freedom of Information request for:
– a list of the organisations and/individuals who responded to the consultation
– a copy of their responses
– your timetable for developing and publishing the Government’s response
– a draft of your response, if it exists yet.'

I did get the first item, a list of responders but that's about it. Fans of Yes Minister might appreciate the reason why I can't see the timetable for the government's response: 'The department holds no information in scope of this part of your request.' Translation: we have no timetable.

I didn't get the draft government response because of 'the need to protect the policy development on which the policy formulation process is not complete'. Translation: well, you get the idea.

And I didn't get a copy of the responses on the grounds that, for data protection reasons, they would have to redact any personal data such as names and contact information of responders:

"The Department considers that in accordance with Section 14(1) of the FOIA, it is not required to respond to this part of your request due to the disproportionate level of disruption to the Department’s mainstream activities that would be caused in seeking to comply. In considering the Section 14(1) exemption we have sought to weigh the purpose and value of the request to make this information available against the time and resources that would need to be diverted from other work to meet such a request.

In relation to the burden on the Department in meeting the request, you should be aware that the Department received in excess of 500 responses to the Call for Evidence. All of these responses will contain the personal data of responders and some may also contain information which is confidential and commercially sensitive, the disclosure of which could prejudice the commercial interests of those who took part. If we were to release this information, every individual response would need to be considered against the exemptions in Section 40 (personal information), Section 41 (Information provided in confidence) and Section 43 (Commercial Interests) of the Act. Any responses released would then require redaction of any exempt information. We have therefore concluded that the burden in identifying and redacting exempted material across this volume of documentation would be disproportionate."
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