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:
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.