Law change will raise costs for local council IT

Law change will raise costs for local council IT

Suppliers could raise prices if they have to receive FOI requests directly

Proposals to extend freedom of information (FOI) laws to the government’s suppliers will lead to rising local authority IT costs, warn experts.

The scheme ­ designed to increase transparency in the distribution and expenditure of public funds ­ was open for public consultation until 1 February.

If it goes ahead as planned, technology costs will rise as suppliers adjust their prices to reflect the extra burden and risk of processing FOI requests, said Marc Brett, officer for information assurance at Socitm, the local government IT user group.

“Increased transparency is a good thing for the public, but we cannot expect the private sector to absorb the costs,” he said.

The plans are a major change because private sector organisations will be required to divulge information directly to the public for the first time.

The cost implications are also significant. Dealing with FOI requests costs central government £24.4m annually and local government £8m, excluding initial setup. And all organisations subject to the FOI Act are required to have at least one permanent member of staff to administer the legislation.

IT suppliers are aware of the implications, said Eversheds lawyer Elaine Fletcher.
“Currently contractors only have to deal with retrieving the data,” she said.

“The change could mean they have to assess the applicability of exemptions and public interest arguments and have a complaints procedure ­ all of which will increase operating costs.”

Local government will be worse hit than Whitehall because provisions for coping with FOI requests are already a part of most central government IT contracts.

And smaller contractors may need to expensively reorganise their business so private data is protected.