FOIMan welcomes union scrutiny of universities’ FOI performance and suggests other ways they can help FOI.

A press release earlier this week highlighted poor FOI compliance at universities. Not that long ago, of course, many universities were pressing to be removed from the Act’s coverage.

The press release came from UCU, the university lecturers’ union. It is good to see FOI being used effectively by unions and other groups that scrutinise public sector bodies.

However, reading their press release, I had to suppress a smile. It brought to mind the time when, as my university’s FOI Officer, I was dismayed to discover that an officer of our local UCU branch had sent an email to their members instructing them not to cooperate with my efforts to answer an FOI request. In the end I found ways to collate a response which avoided an unpleasant stand-off (let alone a potential s.77 prosecution for obstructing the provision of requested information). It’s also worth saying that this experience was never repeated, and was most probably the result of a misunderstanding.

But it highlights once again that for most practitioners, the most challenging aspect of FOI compliance is attempting to secure the cooperation of colleagues. Not least when others with influence are advocating resistance.

UCU and other public sector unions have found FOI to be a useful campaigning tool. They can help with the evolution of transparency in public sector bodies by encouraging their members to view FOI requests positively when they are on the receiving end.