DTI responds to questions about their accessibility.

Regular readers will know that Dan Champion and I have asked questions of the Department of Trade and Industry over spending a quarter of a million pounds of taxpayer’s money on a new website that failed to meet the accessibility standards required in their own spec.

The questions were asked twenty days ago under the Freedom of Information Act. On the last possible day the law allows for them to delay before responding, they have answered our questions.

Thank you for your request for information on the accessibility of the Department of Trade and Industry’s website which we received on 26/06/06. I regret that we cannot provide this information, as the cost of administering your request would exceed the limit prescribed under Section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act. This is £600, which represents the estimated cost of spending 24 hours in determining whether the Department holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information. Where the cost of compliance with a request would exceed the appropriate limit, we are not obliged to comply with that request. We have received nine separate FOI requests regarding the accessibility of the DTI website. All nine requests appear to have been generated by contributors to the blether.com website and discussion forum:

  • http://www.blether.com/archives/2006/06/the_dti_respond.php
  • http://www.brucelawson.co.uk/index.php/2006/stupid-government-websites/

Regulation 5(1) of the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004 provides that, where two or more requests for the same or similar information are made to a public authority by different persons who appear to be acting in concert or in pursuance of a campaign, those requests may be aggregated for the purposes of estimating whether compliance with the requests would exceed the appropriate limit.

We have aggregated the nine requests received on this subject, and estimate that the cost of compliance with them would exceed the appropriate limit. We are therefore not obliged to provide the information requested.

However, the DTI is aware of the accessibility issues with the new website. An accessibility audit is planned and the recommendations from the audit will identify accessibility improvements.

So that’s OK then. I wonder which of the bright sparks on their project team will do an accessibility audit – and how much that’ll cost?

What’s particularly galling is the misuse of the Freedom of Information Act to keep the answers from us. They’ve aggregated all the information requests and, combined, they cost too much to fulfill. The logic of this is that the greater the demand for such information, the more it allegedly costs to provide and hence it won’t be supplied. Crazy.

It’s breathtaking that they are currently playing the rôle of defenders of the public purse, after they’ve squandered a quarter of a million quid on a crap site. (Note that they are “not obliged” to fulfill our request, so are not forbidden to give us answers; they’re witholding the information by choice. What could they possibly be hiding?)

What a farce. What a disgrace.

Dan and I will appeal, and if you sent an information request in, we urge you to appeal as well. If you want to help, please write to your MP and demand the DTI answer our questions.

13 Responses to “ DTI responds to questions about their accessibility. ”

Comment by Lloydi

‘Scuse the French (for that is what I believe the language I’m about to utter is) …. but what a bunch of cocknuckles. Freedom of information my ass.

Comment by Andy Higgs

What absolute crap. An overly convienient get out clause in my opinion, considering the obscene amount already squandered on the redesign.

Also, surely multiple requests (a greater public interest) would *enhance* the reason to release the information?

It’s like trying to pick up mercury with a fork.

Comment by GCHQ already knows

I find the tone of that reply to be arrogant, smug and totally inappropriate. We shouldn’t need a freedom of information act to hold civil servants accountable for wasting our money. I’d like to know if the staff responsible have already cleared their desks, or when they will be doing so. Surely we don’t need to make a FOIA request for the DTI to tell us that?

Comment by andy

Oh what a deliciously, fatuous reply. If nine people have asked a collection of similar questions, surely the cost per question goes down a bit? Campaigns don’t mean the question is any lees deserving of a public answer.

Anyway I look forward to seeing a case summary of the appeal in the Information Rights Journal
http://www.foi.gov.uk/reference/informationRightsJournal.htm
(or maybe it will end up redacted, in a spirit of inter-department friendliness).

On the positive side, they’re making a start on improvements with a review. Lets hope it doesn’t take long, they follow through and tell all the other central government webmasters what happens when you don’t follow your own advice.
http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/e-government/resources/handbook/html/2-4.asp

Comment by Ross Bruniges

that’s definatly a “we appreciate your comments but feck off email”

definately an annoying situation but at least they do plan an audit (of cause planning and doing can be mile apart)

Comment by Bruce

Emailed to my MP this morning:

Dear XXX,
I am a web developer with a particular interest in making websites that are accessible, that is: available to people with disabilities.

I was therefore saddened to see that the Department of Trade and Industry have launched a new website, costing £200,000, that does not meet the guidelines for accessibility, and which arguably contravenes the disability discrimination Act, although on Monday, 5 December 2005, Alun Johnson responded to a question from Charles Hendry to tell him “DTI follows the Guidelines for UK Government Websites which mandate Level A of the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. DTI aims to go beyond this by meeting the AA standard, along with those elements of AAA which are considered best practice.” (Citation: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2005-12-05b.30965.h )

A colleague of mine, Dan Champion and I put in a request to the DTI to find out why there was such an expensive failure to procure correct technology and monitor suppliers – but the DTI refuses to answer our questions, see http://www.blether.com/archives/2006/07/dti_update_foi.php

I wonder if you can help find out what went wrong at the DTI so we can ensure that it doesn’t happen again, and also to ensure that your disabled constituents (such as myself) are not locked out of government websites that I’ve helped fund with my taxes.

With best wishes,
Bruce Lawson

Comment by Alan Graham

Contacted my MP who got back within a week saying he has forwarded questions about it to Alistair Darling.

Comment by Andy Mabbett

There’s an article about this in the new Private Eye (cover date 18 August 2006); this blog is mentioned and the URL given.

Comment by Bruce

I also figure very highly in a Google search on “Shaved German Nurses in Aqualungs”. Probably far more interesting to Private Eye readers..

Comment by Cecil Ward

Fantastic job, Bruce.

I wonder if the National Audit Office could take a look into this madness, since public money is being wasted

See http://www.nao.org.uk/about/role.htm#Value

Organisations such as in that example spend our money to produce a garbage website, then spend more of our money to find out what’s wrong with it (on an “audit”), and then spend our money again yet again to rework it.

Incredible. Perhaps you could send them a (now free) copy of PAS78?