Earlier this week I sent the following Tweet:
“Preparing an FOI response, identified £9k that should have been reclaimed. Hasty emails being sent to recover it. FOI can save real money.”
This is great news, of course. As a direct result of FOI, a significant figure was saved, which can now be reinvested in other areas of our work. I was able to use it to demonstrate to a senior figure how, despite its occasional frustrations, FOI can save the organisation money. What this isn’t though, is evidence that through more openness we can cut down on the number of public servants employed. This isn’t a triumph of the Big Society.
Although the information was requested through FOI, the error would not have been evident to the requester. In order to provide the information requested, more detailed information had to be collated. It was only when somebody directly affected (ie a member of staff) saw the detailed figures before the response went out that they noticed the error. Even if the detailed figures had been disclosed, it is highly unlikely that the requester, or anyone else, would have noticed the discrepancy.
This also highlights the importance of having someone check responses before they go out. I’ve posted before about the fact that no process of discovery is fool-proof. David Higgerson wrote yesterday about the irritation for the requester when erroneous data is released. The only real answer to this is for someone who knows the information well to check it over before it is disclosed. And for the FOI Officer to cross his fingers before hitting send.